Mountain, Soil and Water Conservation District Assists and Awards Farmers – Part 2


In Part 1 of this story, we learned of the various ways that the Mountain, Soil and Water Conservation District can assist local landowners and farmers. One couple in Highland County started taking advantage of these services years ago, and their overall efforts landed them with an award in early December. Chuck and Lou Ann Neely operate Riven Rock Farm and Rainbow Springs Farm, and they collaborate with others to have access to around 700 acres of pastured and forested land full of livestock and wildlife.

Chuck provides details on their operation. He says, “Several years ago, we started working with the Mountain, Soil and Water Conservation District, and also the NRCS, Natural Resources Conservation Services – part of the USDA, and we put in a project that included over seven miles of exclusion fencing and thirteen different watering points for our livestock for our operation, and we’ve been working with the Mountain, Soil and Water since then, so they provided us with great equipment that we were able to use to do some overseeding, some holistic fertility practices as I should say ‘cause we’re a chemical-free farm, and that’s been a great relationship. That whole infrastructure has kind of spurred our business to the next level, since we’re a direct-to-consumer farm, but more importantly, it helps exclude the cattle from the water sheds, from the different riparian areas. We’ve got several mountain streams that we use to collect the water, and those streams are now excluded out of the rotational grazing systems, so it’s much better for the stream banks and for erosion and sediment, and cattle seem to be happy, and the water’s good, and life is good.”

Terry King, Vice Chair of the Mountain, Soil and Water District, says that he and many others toured the Neely’s farms earlier in the year to see the roughly 200 acres of fencing and other techniques. He says, “It was just obvious after that tour that these people were passionate about preserving our natural resources, particularly clean water. In fact, there was trout actually in one of their streams that were not stock trout, they were brook trout, which was kind of amazing.”

Because of their efforts, Chuck and Lou Ann were recognized at the Highland County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on December 5th. In cooperation with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Mountain, Soil and Water Conservation District awarded them with the 2017 Clean Water Farm Award as farmers who demonstrate outstanding management practices which conserve precious natural resources. A resolution recognizing the Neely’s was also passed by the Highland County Board of Supervisors.

Chuck says it was great to be nominated, and he also explains why he and his wife have moved forward in their farming approach. He says, “I think there’s a couple reasons, but one, it’s good for the environment, but also I think for us, it’s a lower cost way of doing things. If we’re segmenting our property in to all these different paddocks, and we’re rotating, we’re using the animals as really the fertility engines for the farm with the manure, and we’re equitably spreading that around instead of just giving the cattle access, to say, a hundred acre pasture. The fertility over the last few years has really grown, and it cost us less money to do it that way, and I think it’s the way of the future. People are asking cleaner meats, more environmentally-friendly products, and we’re trying to tap in to that. We’ve learned a lot and made a lot of mistakes along the way, but definitely, this has been one of the better projects for us.”

Chuck and Lou Ann Neely have lodging facilities on their farms for people to come visit and learn more. For more information, they can be reached at 540-474-3022 or at their website at


Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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