Two years ago, Liz and Jimmie Riffle opened a bison ranch.
In north central West Virginia, near Terra Alta.
“It was actually his idea. We’re avid skiers and vacation in Jackson, Wyoming, where the buffalo really do still roam,” said Liz. “He was fascinated by the animals, they’re so massive and hardy and content.”
Today, the two military veterans — who met while caring for wounded warriors in Bethesda, Maryland — run Riffle Farms American Bison, a 64-acre farm with 40 bison including seven calves.
And they want you to come visit.
In a diverse group of eight Preston County farms and agricultural businesses, they are perhaps the most unusual site planning to open the barn doors and pastures on Sunday for the first ever Preston County Farm Crawl, a free opportunity for the public to touch, taste and experience farm life first hand.
If the bison were Jimmie’s vision, the farm crawl was his wife’s. It occurred to her after hearing discussions about agritourism at the West Virginia Small Farm Conference and the Women in Agriculture Conference, both organized through the West Virginia Extension Service.
“I was listening to a podcast that was talking about these farm crawls they were doing out West to heighten the interest in the local farmers,” she said.
She tracked down the guy featured on the podcast and picked his brain about how to get such a thing started — and whether it would make sense to try it here in West Virginia.
Turns out, it made at least as much sense as shipping a whole farm full of bison to the Mountain State.
“Some farmers aren’t able to have a store front because it’s time consuming and expensive, so these farm crawls give them an opportunity to be in that limelight so people know where some of their foods are coming from.”
It’s especially relevant for farms that sell at farmers markets, she said, because it gives their customers a chance to go out and see where and how their food is raised.
“When we go to farmers markets people are always like, ‘Oh, can we come to your farm?’ And we now do a regular tour series but not everybody can do that, so the farm crawl allows them to be open for a day and let the public come out and see what they’re all about.”
Eight participating farm sites are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and each location will have tours, samplings and goods for sale. The route takes roughly 3.5 hours to drive without stops — so visitors can choose which destinations to visit and how long to stay at each one.
Businesses on the Farm Crawl are Pike Mountain Farm, EB Farm Hydroponics, Crimson Shamrock Ranch, Riffle Farms American Bison, High Ground Brewing, Possum Tail Farm, Rough Right Farm, and The Broken Tractor Farm & Winery.
“We’re super excited,” said Jennie Kahly, who, along with her husband, Brian, owns Possum Tail Farm, a solar-powered and certified naturally grown livestock farm with 100 percent grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pigs.
“We’ll have four guided tours during the event and our farm store will be open the entire time, we’ll have a garden walk. ... and people can see the pigs,” she said.
Possum Tail Farm also has a solar electric car charger, hosts campers on their farm, has launched a line of medicinal herbs and is in the process of building a tiny house which will be available for rent later this summer.
Beef from Possum Tail will also be featured at the Bar-b-qed Beast food truck at High Ground Brewing in Terra Alta. Though technically not a farm, the brewery, which opened about this time last year, has a close working relationship with area farmers — in part because they offer the nutrient-rich, used malt, grains and hops for livestock feed.
“So after we are done with the brewing process, instead of throwing them away, we have a really close group of local farmers that come in and we just give them the grains for their cattle, their pigs, whoever they want to use them for,” said Jana Wolfe, whose military husband and a partner opened the brewery after years of experimenting with home recipes.
The Farm Crawl, said Wolfe, is an idea whose time has come.
“I don’t think there’s enough highlight to what Preston County has to offer in general, let alone the phenomenal farming community that we’ve grown to love,” she added.
For more information and an interactive map to help plan your day, visit https://www.rifflefarms.com/pres toncountyfarmcrawl or @prestoncountyfarmcrawl on Facebook. Contact organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.