Faith flowers at Mustard Seed Farm
One step onto Mustard Seed Farm in Hadensville and the presence of exotic plants overwhelms the senses.
During the fall season, oddball pumpkins dominate the entrance–some pale green and rigid, others bright orange and smooth, and several combinations of color and texture to keep even the wandering eyes focused on the Halloween necessities.
Beyond the pumpkins are assorted perennials, a table of lush lavender that gently awakens the nose, and a beautiful Persian ironwood rests among young Alberta spruces and sourwood.
The hands that nurture these unusual flora belong to Jennifer and Michael Mazza, who established their farming operation in 2003.
“When we bought the place it was nothing but weeds,” Jennifer said. “It was totally overgrown. We had to start from scratch.”
The couple had recently married and decided to buy the property from a friend, Rhoda Britton, who lived on the property but was unable to maintain the farm due to illness.
Michael had done construction work on the five-acre farm and grew up next door to Britton in Richmond. When Britton offered the Mazzas her farm, they were happy to accept the proposal.
The Mazzas then used plenty of elbow grease and midnight oil to renovate the farm in western Goochland.
“This was gonna be a hobby,”
Jennifer said, “but it’s not anymore. It’s become full-time. We’ve been so blessed. I never thought I’d have a house and a life this good.”
Jennifer, who is originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Virginia in the 1990’s with Home Depot where she helped establish the company’s presence in the commonwealth.
“[Home Depot] really taught me a lot about the business side,” Jennifer said. “I went as far as I wanted to with them. I wasn’t into the whole corporate aspect.”
After deciding that she needed a change, she soon met Michael at Glen Allen Community Church. Then the chips started falling into place–Jennifer was “born again,” and found herself with a renewed life and someone to share it with.
“We’re both so blessed to have each other,” Jennifer said. “We were both over 40 when we married.”
Jennifer named the farm Mustard Seed, inspired by the famous biblical proverb that says a person with faith as small as a mustard seed can do anything.
Originally, Michael said they intended on selling only biblical plants, but the operation grew to include other interesting varieties.
Now, Mustard Seed offers an abundance of herbs, shrubs, flowers and trees, including apple, peach and pear trees. Most of their business comes from farmers’ markets around central Virginia and the larger plant sales in the state.
Jennifer said that she may integrate vegetables into her product line, but right now she is trying to maintain her current inventory.
“I would like to get into cut flowers,” Jennifer said. “I’ve got what I like, but I keep looking for new and unusual things that will thrive in Virginia gardens.”
Jennifer said that gardening in Virginia can be difficult, because the soil is mostly clay and temperatures and precipitation can vary wildly.
Dr. Len Morrow instructed Jennifer at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College while she took agriculture-based courses at the Goochland campus.
“Jennifer always went at it head on,” Morrow said, “running before she learned to crawl, making up for a lack of formal education by using determination and very hard work, and profiting from every error.”
Morrow also credits Jennifer with a strong work ethic and keen business sense, all while being able to design table top arrangements and landscaping patterns for clients.
Jennifer, 49, holds a degree in fine arts with a concentration in painting, but she said that she’s always done her own landscaping.
Michael, 50, spends most of his time operating the couple’s other business, Security Construction, allowing Jennifer to handle Mustard Seed’s affairs.
Jennifer said that Goochland has been most welcoming, and that the farming community has been collaborative and willing to share information.
“I love Goochland. I love Virginia,” she said. “I don’t want to live anywhere else. This was a dream come true, really.”
– Published in the October 29, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian.
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Leading the pack, one mount at a time
Prowling down jagged rocks, a mountain lion hunts its prey. The fear created by the predator’s eyes is potent and primal. It’s claws ready to strike, its muscles carved into its fur, ready to explode onto an unfortunate creature, another chapter in the unending story of life.
But this animal’s breath has long since left its body. It is now a permanent memory, a monument to its species, a testament to the will of man, preserved as work of art by Todd Rapalee, Goochland taxidermist.
Founded in 1970 by Todd’s father James, Rapalee Taxidermy has earned an international reputation as one of the best. The world-class facility has won numerous awards and has been featured in an elite, limited edition hard cover book.
“My mentor in taxidermy would have to be my Dad,” Todd said. “If he wasn’t a taxidermist growing up, I would probably have never been interested in the field.”
First and foremost, Todd is an artist, a sportsman and a family man. Since taking over operations from his father in 1997, the 39-year-old has mounted everything from elephants, alligators and giraffes to turkeys, bears and catfish.
“I used to do snakes, but not any more,” Todd said, noting that snake-killing is illegal in Virginia.
Todd expressed concern that some people perceive taxidermy negatively, but he shares their devotion to animal welfare, and hopes that his work will help people to understand taxidermy on a deeper, more preservationist level.
“It’s like the polar bears,” Todd said. “People get so nervous about polar bears, but the population is actually at an all-time high.”
Todd said that a polar bear hunt costs $30,000, with majority of the money going into the indigenous economy. But when the U.S. outlawed importation, the local populace began taking the mandatory six bears a year, in which case no money is exchanged.
“The money they make goes into preserving the animal,” Todd said. “Theodore Roosevelt said it best, ‘The genuine sportsman is, by all odds, the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.’”
Taxidermy is an art, and Todd’s work speaks for itself.
“I’ve always enjoyed art,” Todd said. “Whether drawing, painting, sculpting. Taxidermy allows me to use all of these mediums on a daily basis.”
When Todd was five, he managed to recreate a grey squirrel, marking the first of thousands of animals that would find their way into his hands.
“It wasn’t much to look at!” Todd said of his squirrel mount.
The facility near George’s Tavern is an experience in and of itself. Greeting clients at the door is Vickie, Todd’s wife of 21 years.
“We treat our clients like we want to be treated,” Vickie said. “With respect and courtesy. It’s more than just a business to us, it represents who we are.”
Rapalee serves its clientele before the hunt ever takes place, offering tips on skinning and preserving the animal as well as shipping and customs service consultation.
“The final outcome of a quality mount begins in the field,” Todd said. “All animals require different field care steps prior to delivery to our studio.”
The process is more than just wrapping skin around a composite-foam manikin form. Sometimes, Todd manipulates forms from similar species if no forms are available for the specific animal he is mounting.
“There’s only three forms for elephants,” Todd said. “So you have to make it work. You adjust the form until the skin fits it. I never cut the skin to fit a form.”
Creating a life-like replica of an animal is only one part of Todd’s end product.
“We’re well-known for our habitats,” Vickie said. “People will bring us a rock so we can re-create the natural habitat as best we can.”
Todd also asks his clients to bring photos of their harvested animals in their native surroundings. He then uses those images to inspire which flora will inhabit the stand that holds the mount.
“It’s a constant process,” Todd said of habitat creating. “I use real lichens on the rocks, metallic paints. They can take several days to make.”
One of Todd’s creations involved building a seven-section, 10-foot by 28-foot wall of rocks for various species of goats and rams to be placed.
“People give us free range to really show what we can do,” Todd said. “People know us, and give us trust.”
The USDA-certified facility houses a showroom with 125 mounts at any given time. There is a large working studio, an airbrush room and a skinning, salting and drying room.
Todd said that he enjoys doing predator and prey scenes, and he hopes to one day create a scene with several wolves taking down a large mammal such as bull moose or musk ox.
Todd and Vickie have a 16-year-old son, Dillon, who has designed marketing materials for the business, adding to the family-oriented style of Rapalee Taxidermy.
– Published in the September 24, 2009 edition of The Central Virginin.
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What do Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson have in common?
Besides being musicians, each superstar uses guitar cases designed and built by TKL Products Corp., an Oilville-based company that is celebrating 25 years of operations.
“We came to Goochland after our friends at Hohner told us about the area,” said founder Tom Dougherty.
Tom and his wife Donna started the business in Farmingdale, New York in 1984. The husband-and-wife team is strengthened by their three children–Tommy, Kevin, and Laurie (the inspiration behind the TKL name)–and Donna’s 84-year-old father, Tony Laudani.
“They keep me busy,” Laudani said. “It keeps me out of trouble.”
Tom said that Laudani helps with nearly every element of the production phase, and each family member has different responsibilities with the company. Tommy works with computers and engineering, Kevin handles product development, Laurie works with operations and Donna handles human resource and finances. Tom oversees all aspects of the business, which employs 45 people in a 63,000 square-foot facility.
“We have about eight or nine acres here,” Tom said of TKL’s property. “So we’re open for possible expansion.”
According to Tom, TKL has built its reputation as one of the leading case-makers in the world by using innovative materials, designs and manufacturing processes. TKL owns 35 patents and trademarks, and the company prides itself on its client relations.
“We work with businesses to help them with inventory management,” Tom said. “Most people just sell as much as they can as fast as they can. We want to help our customers in the long-term.”
This business philosophy has earned TKL an exclusive client list, from guitar companies like CF Martin, Gibson and Gretsch, to gun maker Smith & Wesson.
TKL started making gun cases several years ago when the family noticed that many musicians also own guns and enjoy the outdoors.
The Dougherty family has embraced the outdoors theme, and Tom is developing ideas to partner with Rapalee Taxidermy of Goochland. The partnership would involve TKL making guitar cases with the tanned hides of hunted animals, and taxidermist Todd Rapalee would mount the head of the animal.
“It’s a pretty unique concept,” Tom said.
TKL is no stranger to uncommon ideas. When Travis Tritt’s wife Theresa ordered a guitar case covered with skin from a bison in Tritt’s herd, TKL took the job.
When Dolly Parton wanted a Barbie doll- themed case for her Backwoods Barbie tour, TKL was at the top of a short list.
When Eric Clapton’s agent called requesting an alligator-skin case with Sterling silver hardware, TKL accepted the offer, and charged Clapton nearly $22,000 for the case.
“He’s ordered three [cases] from us,” Donna said. “His agent said he would have paid $100,000.”
An artistic rendering of TKL’s reptile-covered axe holder is featured on Clapton’s 2005 album Back Home.
TKL also made an ostrich-skin case for CF Martin’s one-millionth guitar, and offers a custom-case series called Cedar Creek that gives customers total control.
“We’ve got several thousand designs from over the years,” Donna said.
The variety of cases is seemingly endless, and the company has several dozen lines from which to choose. Customers can choose from cases made of five-ply Poplar, alternative carbon fiber, a patented composite material called T-loy or a number of other options.
Goochland artist Patty Rosner has painted several TKL guitar cases, including one that is on display in the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
“I designed three [guitar cases] for show purposes,” Rosner stated in an e-mail. “It was a wonderful collaborative opportunity.”
TKL is celebrating its 25th year by looking forward to the next quarter-century. The team is developing a line called Next Generation that will feature aerodynamic designs and patented structural elements.
But keeping with tradition is just as important, Tom said, and TKL offers an American Vintage Series that replicates cases from the early 20th Century.
“The methods that were used up to 20, 30 years ago aren’t used anymore,” Tom said. “We’ve tried to keep them alive.”
In an effort to preserve tradition, TKL bought the Harptone name, a case-making company founded in 1873. TKL stocks a considerable number of Harptone cases made during the 19th Century, and Tom said he hopes to establish a museum to showcase the weathered artifacts.
All TKL hard-shell cases are made in Goochland, giving the Doughertys a sense of American pride. To stay competitive, TKL manufactures its canvas bags in China, although design still takes place in-house.
Staying at the top of the case-making industry has kept the Doughertys busy, but not enough to deter TKL from contributing to the local community.
“We’ve sponsored the Goochland and Godwin (high schools’) robotics teams,” Donna said, adding that TKL has also contributed to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.
Before starting TKL, Tom spent three years in the Army and after that he worked developing guitar amplifiers and cases, which gave him the knowledge to start his own business.
TKL’s reputation can be summed up with a picture the company was sent by a U.S. soldier in Iraq.
“He was holding his [TKL-made] guitar case that was inside a truck when it was fire-bombed,” Tom said. “The guitar was unharmed.”
– Published in the September 3, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian.
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Fresh, locally harvested meat and produce will be available year-round thanks to the forward-thinking folks at the Center for Rural Culture in Goochland.
The Goochland Farmers Market has begun a winter co-op, allowing consumers to continue supporting the local marketplace during the cold season.
It all started when Lisa Dearden, executive director of the Center for Rural Culture, approached Molly Harris looking to expand the operating season of the farmers’ market.
Harris operates the Fall Line Farms Co-op, which is an online database connecting local farms to the community. Harris suggested that Dearden use the same system.
“My goal is to get local food to as many people as possible,” Harris said. “We’re really excited about the future and setting up in other areas.”
The winter co-op allows market vendors to sell their products online between the months of November and April, and the process is relatively simple. First, customers buy goods through a dedicated Web site. Vendors then deliver the sold items to designated locations. After that, customers acquire their pre-purchased order by visiting the drop-off site.
Each week, food is delivered to the Goochland Free Clinic and Family Service’s office in the Courthouse area and the former Edible Garden location on River Road.
Dearden said the program is different from other community supported agriculture co-ops.
“If you want to go on vacation for two weeks, you don’t have to worry about buying anything,” Dearden said. “You’re not obligated–that’s a big difference.”
Customers and vendors pay a fee to join the co-op, which is valid for the season.
In total, 17 vendors are participating in the winter co-op, offering a diverse variety of items that Goochland Farmers Market patrons have grown to expect.
One of those vendors is Hidden Turtle farm in Goochland, owned by Amanda and Steve Baier-Miles.
“[It’s] such a great opportunity for people to vote with their purchases for the small farmer, for the local economy,” Amanda said. “It’s a great medium for getting local produce to people. I was excited to participate.”
Hidden Turtle will offer various mesclun salad mixes, and Amanda said that she also hopes to offer cookies.
Market patrons will have an opportunity to donate some of their purchased food to the free clinic, as part of the Pounds of Plenty program.
“Whatever the farmer has more of that week, they can put it in the program,” Dearden said of the Pounds of Plenty. “They still get paid, and the customer gets a receipt for tax purposes.”
The program kicked-off on November 10, and Dearden said that the free clinic collected hundreds of pounds of food, valued at approximately $250 worth of nutritious sustenance.
According to Dearden, Pounds of Plenty allows Goochland residents who receive free clinic services a chance to consume fresh, local foods, which are normally too expensive for lower-income families.
“Some of them may have never had grass-fed beef,” Dearden said. “So it might taste different to them. The food pantry actually cooks once a week and provides recipes.”
Carol Dunlap, family services program coordinator, said that the free clinic serves between 100 to 130 households per week–an increase of 64 percent from last year.
“We’re very excited,” Dunlap said. “Anytime we can provide healthy, nutritious food for people, we appreciate it.”
Dunlap added that it’s not often that the free clinic receives fresh produce that matches the quality donated by the farmers’ market.
Among the items given were bell peppers, kale, baby bok choy, collards, beef, chicken and eggs. There were even a dozen duck eggs donated, a bit of luxury that the free clinic had never seen.
– Published in the November 19, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian.
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There is something special about hand-made gifts. Whether it’s glued macaroni on construction paper or a sculpture made of marble, there is an inherent connection between the gift and its creator that makes the giving more rewarding.
That’s what Valerie Schlake is trying to promote through her quilting business, A Needle Runs Through It, located at Maidens Loop.
“A lot of things you can do right in your own home, without spending a lot of money,” Schlake said.
A Needle Runs Through It is a quilter’s heaven–an array of fabrics and patterns, giant sewing machines, and enough thread to sew uniforms for an army.
What began as a small, home-based business has blossomed into one of most respected quilting establishments in the area.
“I’m like five small businesses under one roof,” Schlake said. “We try and find the niches and fill them.”
One of those niches is teaching people how to quilt. Goochland resident John Palmer didn’t know anything about quilting until he found Schlake’s shop.
“She’s very patient,” Palmer said. “Being a guy, I didn’t get that much exposure to this. She’s been very helpful for anybody wanting to learn.”
Schlake said that she prefers to focus on building interest in the art, rather than selling products. In her opinion, giving someone the opportunity to learn a new art is the best gift idea.
“We want to introduce the art to the local community,” Schlake said. “Getting people turned on to it is actually very easy. Once you get someone started, it’s kind of contagious.”
Schlake offers a variety of classes for anyone interested in quilting. From quick sew-as-you-go sessions to eight-week courses, Schlake will show customers how the needle runs through it, whatever ‘it’ may be.
“One thing we can do is take old clothes and turn them into a memory quilt,” she said. “When you’ve lost a loved one, you don’t want the clothes to go to waste, so you turn them into a quilt. It’s very therapeutic for the person.”
The business also offers a make-it take-it class on Saturdays. For a modest fee, customers create a Christmas-themed craft using items provided by the store. Each week the creation is different–from aprons, stockings and ornaments, to almost anything that can be made with fabric.
“Our hope is you catch the bug,” Schlake said. “We really want the young people to come.”
Store patrons can also learn apparel making, something that Schlake sees as a simple, yet almost lost art among younger generations.
She admitted that her own daughter, however, is much too concentrated on her love of horses to share in her mother’s trade.
Schlake and her husband, Jim, have three children at Goochland High School. They have found the county most welcoming, and, after moving here five years ago from Glen Allen, they consider their roots firmly planted.
In an effort to give back to a community that has embraced her business, Schlake headed an effort to sew 1,000 pillowcases for people with debilitating diseases. Next year she hopes to do it again, working with Conquer Cancer–an online networking site for patients, family and the medical community–to provide people with hand-made items.
“I believe that if you do things for people, it will come around,” she said, adding that she never knows where the business is going next.
“When people say ‘I wish’ is really dangerous to me because I’ll do it,” she said.
This fast-talking, St. Louis native has ambition, and it has taken her far. She’s eager to teach people new ways to express their creativity and stay warm in process.
“A good thing about quilts is you can keep the heat down, save some money,” she joked.
Anyone interested in giving the gift of reduced heating costs could find that opportunity at A Needle Runs Through It.
– Published in the November 26, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian
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A Goochland family is bringing mutton bustin’ to the masses.
The rodeo event generated enough interest to grab the attention of Greg and Melinda McDonald of Goochland. After three years of producing mutton bustin’ events, the McDonalds decided to establish Carney Man Productions and devote themselves full-time to the rodeo business, leaving behind a bundle of dusty, smiling youngsters in their wake.
“The funnest thing we do is meeting with people,” Melinda said, “and seeing how much the children love riding the sheep.”
During a mutton bustin’ event, a child wears a helmet with face protection and holds on to a tuft of fur on a sheep’s neck while the sheep runs around a pen until the child falls off or the sheep gives up.
The McDonalds became involved in mutton bustin’ when their son, Kevin, expressed an interest in the sport. Greg then took his son to local events and bought him a practice chute. Before he knew it, Greg had jumped head first into the industry.
“Before long, I’m winding up making chutes,” Greg said. “I’ve built a portable arena to take to events.”
Now, Kevin acts as the “sheep fighter,” and helps the children mount the sheep. He also holds the smaller children while they ride to help prevent injuries.
“It’s a thrill for the kids,” Melinda said, “and–knock on wood–they seldom sustain injuries as the sheep are so close to the ground.”
CMP has produced the Eastern National Mutton Bustin’ Championships at the State Fair of Virginia for the past three years. The event involves three qualifying rounds and a finals. Children compete for tee-shirts, ribbons and trophies.
Glenn Martin, livestock programs director for the SFV, has known the McDonalds for several years.
“They’re not just a production crew out here to make money,” Martin said. “They do it because they really enjoy it–working with the kids, promoting the livestock and the rodeo.”
The family is staying busy. Earlier this month, CMP traveled to Leesburg for a show. They also produced a mutton bustin’ event for BLM Bull & Rodeo in June at Oakland Heights Farm in Gordonsville.
In addition to mutton bustin’, CMP also produces team penning and team roping events. The McDonalds have a farm in western Goochland where they raise long-horn cattle for roping and train horses for cutting, which involves separating cattle.
Greg, who is originally from Australia, is also a well-respected farrier–an expert in equine hoof care.
“I’ve been cutting horses for 20 years,” Greg said. “I came to the states because I wanted to see the best.”
Melinda met Greg when he was hired to break-in some of her horses.
“[Working with my wife] is fun,” Greg said. “We’re together everyday.”
The McDonalds also have a daughter, Annie Laurie, who is on the equestrian team at the University of South Carolina, continuing her family’s agricultural legacy.
Melinda’s father, Paul Lanier, raises beef cattle on the adjacent farm. Although Melinda grew up in Richmond, she spent weekends and holidays on her father’s farm in Goochland, a place her family now calls home.
– Published in the October 22, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian
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Hard work and perseverance is the American way, and Lois Payton embodies that sentiment.
The Louisa grandmother has been in the insurance business for more than 40 years, getting her start as an executive secretary with Security Insurance in Richmond.
“It was basically a woman’s job,” Payton recalled, noting the gender disparity of the 1960s. She worked directly with a personal lines underwriter, which gave her experience with the corporate side of the insurance industry.
When Payton began her career as an agent, she was the only woman in an office of 27.
“A lot of women come and go,” Payton remembered. “Insurance is male-dominated. It’s competitive. I think my sports background helped me drive to compete.”
Her years competing in softball, volleyball and tennis gave Payton an edge, but her ambitions did not obstruct her goal to have a family.
“She’s done extremely well as a business owner,” said Debbie Cutwright, Payton’s daughter who also works for the firm. “Without her help, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Founded in 1988, L. Payton & Associates employs three generations of the Payton family–Debbie’s son, Drake Nester, began work in 2006. Payton’s daughter Christine manages the Orange office, and Christine’s husband, Brian, also works for the company.
“I’ve never forced [my children] to work for me,” Payton said. “It just happened.”
“She never pushed us,” Debbie said. “She let us do whatever we wanted. Within reason of course!”
Payton admitted that her efforts to work and raise a family may have been harder, had her children been closer in age–ten years separates Debbie and Christine.
Nonetheless, Payton has accumulated a wall of plaques acknowledging her years of dedicated service. She is also a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, an elite organization of life insurance professionals.
Throughout her career, Payton has remained a tireless student of the insurance business. Her college hopes were put on hold after marriage, but that did not prevent her from educating herself. After 22 years of trial by fire, Payton’s skills and confidence merged and her own independent insurance agency in Mineral was the result.
“Some clients I’ve had since I started in 1966,” Payton said, noting that her mantra is to focus on serving the best interests of her clients, not selling them the most expensive insurance packages.
“She’s always been willing to help,” said Greg Melton, a business owner who has retained Payton as an agent for more than 30 years. “She appreciates your business, that’s why I stick with her.”
Regardless of whether Payton’s clients have 10 policies or one policy, she said that she focuses on respect.
“It’s about helping people, and doing the right thing,” she said.
Payton noted that being a woman has been the source of some contention with clients, but she also said that her womanhood has worked to her advantage.
“Sometimes people will call up and say they’ll only talk with a woman,” she said. “So, we give them what they want!”
When she’s not in the office, Payton enjoys spending time at Mineral Baptist Church and playing hands of Texas Hold ‘Em on Friday nights.
“I’m not a big gambler, I just like to play,” she said. “I used to compete in sports, now I compete with cards.”
Payton resides in Tanyard with her husband of 45 years, Roger.
– Published in the September 24, 2009 edition of The Central Virginian.
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