CRAIG COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Agriculture is evolving. While large-scale operations devoted to yield and reaching as many consumers as possible still dominate, some smaller farms have based their approach on the farm-to-table trend with their focus on serving specific customers and their unique demands.
Smoke in Chimneys is one such farm. At its location near New Castle in Craig County, Smoke in Chimneys raises rainbow trout and heritage breed pigs. The trout are sold to restaurants and grocery stores around Virginia, as well as at farmers markets in the Roanoke region. The pigs are processed in Roanoke and the sausage and other cuts, and charcuterie are sold at farmers markets and online.
The site of Smoke in Chimneys is what once was a federal fish hatchery built in the 1930s.
“We’re raising trout like they did 100 years ago,” said Ty Walker, one of the owners of Smoke in Chimneys. “we’re really trying to put an emphasis on local inland seafood, and our aquacultured trout here, I think, is the best option for that.”
The hatchery operation is spring-fed and depends on gravity. There are no pumps and no electricity involved.
Trout eggs are hatched in a hatchery building where they are raised to a certain size before being transplanted to a series of raceways and ponds to mature. The fish eat insects and worms, and their diet is supplemented with natural feed. After about a year, many of the trout are harvested.
“We sell whole fish, cleaned and gutted, head on, tail on,” said Walker as he walked along one of the raceways holding rainbow trout. “It’s been received really well, it’s a unique product.
Walker also raises heritage breed pigs.
“This is our pastured pork program,” Walker said as he walked a wooded area near the Smoke and Chimneys hatchery. “We rotate the pigs through the different woods paddocks.”
The pigs are allowed to forage for grass, acorns, nuts, berries, insects and whatever else they can find. Their diet is supplemented by feed from a local grower.
Smoke in Chimneys raised Berkshire and mulefoot pigs.
“The Berkshire pigs we use for more of our cuts; pork chops, Boston butts, hams, sausage,” said Walker as he gestured to the pigs around him. “The mulefoot is more of our focus on cured meats; different charcuterie, prosciutto, salami.”
The farm got its name as an homage to Walker’s grandfather who owned a farm that had old chimneys on it, but it also has symbolic meaning.
“Our motto is farm, food, prayer,” Walker said. “When you see smoke in chimneys it means a place is alive spiritually and physically.”
The farm-to-table movement means farmers have to be flexible and, in many cases, they have to diversify to meet the changing needs and tastes of their customers. In addition to trout and pork, depending on the season Smoke in Chimneys also offers beef, chicken and eggs, and a raw milk share.
Agritourism provides another facet to farm-to-table operations. Smoke in Chimneys works with a chef to host dinners that highlight the fish and animals the farm raises, as well as locally grown produce and other agricultural products. Tours of the hatchery are also offered.
While Smoke in Chimneys does a variety of things, Walker says the most important thing remains constant, and that is the primary purpose of farming is to produce quality food that people want: “A fish is just a fish in a pond unless someone wants to eat it.”