Alumni Spotlight: The Straight Family

Liz with two of her children.

Liz with two of her children.

Liz (Leidy) Straight (’04) and Jesse Straight

Home: Warrentown, VA

Cohort of 2001

Business: Whiffletree Farm

“We believe that there is a created order and we want to work within it,” says Liz Straight, when asked why Whiffletree Farm practices sustainable agriculture. Liz and her husband Jesse both attended the Templeton Honors College in the early 2000s before getting married and going on to start a sustainable, grass-based family farm in Warrenton, Virginia.

The cattle, pigs and poultry of Whiffletree Farm are cared for in a way that reflects Liz and Jesse’s beliefs about the nature of the world as something that has been created by a loving God. They strive to farm in a way that is “good for the land, good for the animals, and good for people.” This simple vision of pursuing what is healthiest for all has led to specific agricultural practices. For example, rotational grazing: The grass-fed cattle and pastured broiler chickens are moved to different areas of the pasture frequently which provides higher quality feed for the animals and preserves soil fertility.

Cattle at the Straight farm.

From homeschooling their five children (all under the age of 8), to managing the farm, the Straight household is a busy one. Liz has taken over much of the work of managing the household and homeschooling, while Jesse does most of the physical labor and business management of the farm. However, the farm and the family are clearly an integrated whole. Each of the older children has a designated day where they wake up at 5:30 to help Jesse with morning chores on the farm. This time is special for the children because they get one on one time with their dad, and the chance to actively participate in the work of their family’s farm. The opportunity to work together as a family every day is part of the reason the Straights chose to homeschool their children.

How do scholars of the Templeton Honors College, who spend hours reading and discussing Aristotle and St. Augustine, end up with a job that includes muddy work boots and an aching back? Interestingly, the experiences and conversations Liz and Jesse had at Templeton played an important role in their path to becoming farmers. At a time when Jesse was struggling to discern his career path a friend from Templeton gave him a book by Wendell Berry. Berry’s ideas about the agrarian lifestyle contributed to Jesse’s initial interest in farming. “If the way that we’re farming didn’t make so much sense to us intellectually, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying,” Liz says.

Straight children sporting farm t-shirts.

Liz and Jesse’s time at Templeton also opened their eyes to the richness of the Christian faith in new ways. They were introduced to texts that made them realize there was a wealth of spiritual wisdom to be found in church history. Their faith deeply influences their work on the farm. “Our faith frees us up not to worry about prestige when considering a career path. We just need to do good work and the most important job is just how we love each other and our children.” Liz describes how the farming and parenting work that she and Jesse do – repetitive, dirty tasks such as wiping children’s noses or feeding pigs – relates to their faith: “I’m very grateful that our work is so tangible and is so analogous to the life of faith. We believe that suffering is redemptive and we offer it to Christ to be put together with his own… The work of farming is kind of like the work of parenting – it’s clear cut, not easy or simple, but you know what you need to do. That kind of work provides you with raw material to think about the spiritual life.”

– Emma Buchanan (’18)

Jesse Straight tending to Whiffletree Farm’s pastured broiler chickens.

 

Comments

  1. Dear Emma,

    Thanks for this introduction to such a clear, well-articulated vision. I am delighted to think that the Templeton Honors College was part of their decision to become farmers, and to become the kind of farmers that they are–not an easy row to hoe (sorry!), but a good one.

    Thanks again.

    fredp

    Reply

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