Who Runs PVF, Inc.
Hiu Newcomb, born in 1935, lives and works on the farm year round. She takes care of the off-beat varieties of vegetables that we grow at the Vienna farm, in addition to dealing with the many details involved with running a small business on a small budget. A few background facts: Chinese-American, grew up in Hawaii, went to Oberlin College and studied piano, married Tony… Some people find her intimidating, but she is actually the most open-minded and inspiring person on the farm management team.
Hana Newcomb, born in 1959, has worked full time at PVF since 1980, and has never missed a summer on the farm. She is a manager more than a farmer—during the main season she is primarily responsible for coordinating everything. She spends most of her time at the Vienna farm but travels to the Loudoun farm when needed. Like most people who have done hard physical work all their lives, Hana strives to find the quickest, least painstaking way to get any task done. She is married to Jonathan Groisser and they have three children: Benjamin, Alissa, and Rebecca. Hana and her family live at Blueberry Hill, a cohousing community built on the back corner of the Vienna farm.
Ellen Polishuk, born in 1963, first worked at PVF in the late 1970′s. She returned to the farm, joining us as a full time manager and avid organic farmer, in 1992. She is the one person at PVF who always wanted to be a farmer; she got a horticulture degree at Virginia Tech and has a wide variety of farming experience. She has become expert at making spectacular compost, loves to talk about it to anyone who is interested, and is ready to train anyone who is willing to learn.
History of PVF
In the early 1960′s, Tony and Hiu Newcomb started farming in rented ground in Fairfax County, Virginia. At the time, Tony was working for the federal government as an economist, and they lived in Washington, D.C. They had no farming experience and practically no money, but over the years they gradually accumulated more of both. In 1966 they bought five acres of wooded property four miles west of Tysons Corner on Leesburg Pike (Route 7), which was then a two-lane road. They cleared a small field, but continued to farm the original rented forty acre piece on Springhill Road in McLean. At “The New Place” on Route 7 they began to establish a home base: building rustic housing for workers and the family (by this time there were four kids), vegetable packing areas, and acquiring lots of old machinery.
Over the next fifteen years, the Newcombs continued to buy more property, increasing the size of the Route 7 farm. It is expensive farmland, now that it is right in the midst of high income suburbia, but the location has some advantages, mostly to do with marketing.
In 1970 Tony and Hiu decided to become full time farmers. They sold their Dupont Circle house in Washington and moved to Virginia. They were still quite short of cash, since they were paying several mortgages on various land purchases, but they decided they could probably make enough money selling sweet corn and vegetables. The business was nearly ten years old and there was reason for optimism. PVF now had a permanent building for its roadside stand on Leesburg Pike and a reliable group of wholesale customers, with roadside markets of their own.
During the 1970′s the farm became more diversified, employed more people, and kept paying its bills. The four Newcomb children, Hana, Lani, Anna, and Charles, became an important part of the work crew. One of the many goals of PVF was to teach other people about farming, and how to get started. A three week training period, sort of an introductory farm school, called “The June Session,” was established. In 1972 another family, interested in learning about farming, joined the farm (Chip and Susan Planck now run Wheatland Vegetable Farms, adjacent to our Loudoun County farm). PVF was a busy and interesting place to be, and everybody had to work hard.
In the mid-1970′s PVF was growing vegetables in three different counties: sixty miles away on the farm in Southern Maryland, thirty-five miles west in Loudoun County, and on many different rented fields in the Tysons Corner area in Fairfax County. On the home farm there was a milk cow, many chickens, horses, a mill for squeezing sorghum for molasses, and a range of other non-income producing activities. Sweet corn took up 125 acres, 35,000 tomato plants required 6,000 bales of straw, and a mechanical bean picker helped to harvest 25 acres of green beans. All of this planting, weeding, harvesting, and marketing took an incredible amount of logistical effort and physical endurance.
By 1980 Tony was beginning to think of other things to do with his life, although he was still the main instigator at the farm. Hiu did more work, probably, but Tony did most of the planning and dreaming. In 1982 Tony got a mysterious illness which turned out to be lymphoma, and he was sick off and on for two years until he died in the spring of 1984. Fortunately, he had just hired a very competent and hard-working young man, Paul Benton, to help with mechanical work and tractor driving.
When the Newcombs managed to convince Paul that they intended to keep farming (and no, he was not out of a job), the next phase of PVF began. The bosses were now Hiu, Hana, and Lani Newcomb, with lots of help from veteran workers.
1984 was a year when the weather was completely farmer-friendly, and PVF struggled through, producing vast surpluses of everything. Since then, the farm has gradually been reducing its scope, trying to get down to an efficient and manageable size, and still pay all the bills. In 1991, PVF was certified organic. In the early 1990′s Ellen Polishuk joined the team and became the Loudoun County farm manager. The Maryland farm was sold to Paul Benton, and is now owned by Heinz Thomet, an organic farmer friend closely connected to PVF.