Living on the Land: Semi-Rural Great Falls

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 3:38 PM | Katie Whitman (Administrator)


Dairy farming was the most prevalent economic activity in the Great Falls area from the 1880s, after the Civil War, through to 1989, when the very last functioning dairy farm was sold. From the 1980s to the present, there has been a lot of local activity around mega-mansions, cul-de-sacs, and mowed lawns. However, the mission of our local citizens association, formed in the late-1960s, has been “To preserve and protect the semi-rural character of Great Falls.” The Great Falls Historical Society’s January Program, Living on the Land: Semi-Rural Great Falls, featured five local residents who bring their land into abundant life in remarkable ways, establishing a deep and enduring connection with their land.

The “Kondnerosa”

Dave Kondner grew up on a 350-acre cattle ranch in the Maryland countryside. Although there wasn’t much money in small farming, he always loved the natural environment. When he found his 5-acre property in Great Falls, so close to urban amenities but shielded from the urban hubbub, Kondner and his wife bought a five-acre former horse farm with a house and barn, completely fenced, with a pond and lots of untouched countryside.

Kondner loves the great wildlife around his home including the bald eagle, the red-shouldered hawk, the osprey, even a wild turkey, and lots of wild birds that hang out on his feeder. Kondner’s property is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Domestic geese and lots of wild geese enjoy his pond. Kondner built a koi pond with a fountain in his front yard. Kondner’s deck overlooks his pasture, making it possible for him to throw food scrapes over the deck for his herd to enjoy.

Kondner has four goats and seven sheep and, ah yes, meat in the fall. Sheep are lean, but goats are even leaner. The pulse of life around him gives him great joy, delight and a sense of wellbeing.

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Photo by Keyvan Moussavi

The goat herd of American and French Alpines are bred and kidded annually at the Amalthea Ridge Farm, a three-acre farm on Fringe Tree Road in Great Falls. Some are sold to other farmers and some are kept for milk production, and such artisan products as milk, cheese, lotions and soaps. 

Growing ‘Kids’ on Fringe Tree

Keyvan Moussavi and his wife Sarah Wehri manage a herd of up to 30 goats on their three wooded acres next to a 100-year flood plain off of Leigh Mill Road. Their endeavors involve the year-round lifecycle of mating, birthing, weaning, selling or keeping a solid genetic mix of well-fed, well-bred, well-behaved and well-socialized animals who produce outstanding milk for those with milk and cheese shares or for use in luxury soaps and lotions. Sarah, a who holds a Ph.D. and is a biochemist, wrote her thesis on emollience and fashions remarkable soaps right here in Great Falls.

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Photo by Barbara Smith

The Smith's Historic Raspberry Garden: This raspberry garden is filled with red, yellow, black and purple raspberries – both summer and everbearing – as well as a variety of herbs. 

The Pleasures of a Semi-Rural Life

Barbara and Doug Smith live in the historic John Gunnell House on Arnon Meadow Road, built in 1851. An old garden still stands. Barbara has endeavored to locate heirloom bulbs and seeds from the earliest known dates that would have been in keeping with the time the house was built. Barbara noted the heritage trees found on her property as well as a fenced-in raspberry garden from the previous owner. Barbara is experimenting with different kinds of raspberries, both summer and ever-bearing berries.

New gardens have been built that include a fruit orchard and a deer-proof garden to grow organic vegetables, with a small garden nearby for asparagus.

Barbara started a wildlife habitat for all kinds of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, and has enjoyed watching the bluebirds building their nests. In the process, she has become particularly concerned about the monarch butterflies and now raises butterflies from the baby caterpillars found on milkweed in her garden, setting them free once they emerge from the chrysalis 10 to 14 days later. Her greatest pleasure is the enthusiasm of their grandchildren – weeding, mulching, planting seeds, picking raspberries, filling the bird feeder, and most of all, seeking and gathering monarch caterpillars and watching with fascination each life stage of these beautiful creatures.

Farming on Two Great Falls Acres

Chris and Sara Guerre rent two acres of fertile farmland just off of River Bend Road, where they plant, grow, harvest and prepare organic-equivalent produce for Maple Avenue Market, their boutique food store on Maple Avenue in Vienna, their various farmers markets, and of particular importance, their commitment to getting their organic produce into the public school cafeteria. Getting better food in the cafeteria helps kids eat better, enjoy healthy food, and hopefully change their attitude about food. Feeding school children is clearly Chris’s passion. He has helped kids build a garden at their schools, he has brought them on tours to his farm, he and Sara have brought prepared vegetables and salads to schools to share healthy eating and new tastes. Chris’ eyes sparkled when he reflected on the miracle of a handful of seeds, which cost next to nothing, and the wonderful miracle of the planted seed, and the abundance it gives forth. His amazement with the miracle of earth, seed and water inspires his year-round dedication and commitment.

Conserving a 13-Acre Garden

Barbara and Doug Cobb own a 13-acre property on Crocked Crow just off of Georgetown Pike. In Doug’s oral history, he refers to his property as “paradise.” A mix of wild, wooded acres, manicured flower gardens, and vegetable gardens, the land conveys all the lush and wonderful aspects of nature. Barbara and Doug have decided to keep their garden in tact by enlisting their property with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. As such, it is permanently protected from being subdivided, and will remain as one single property for generations to come.

As we have learned and have recorded for future generations, in the year 2016 there were residents living upon our land called Great Falls who were still fully in touch with the full and essential meaning of “semi-rural” and one might say, quite simply, they their simple connection with the land created for them lives of great joy. The presentations have been filmed and may be viewed at our web site (www.gfhs.org).

The Great Falls Historical Society was organized in 1977 to promote community spirit by bringing the past into the present. Our next program, “Historic Preservation” presented by Susan Hellman will be on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Great Falls Library Meeting Room.

Kathleen Murphy, President, Great Falls Historical Society, Great Falls Connection, January 19, 2016

http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2016/jan/19/living-land-semi-rural-great-falls/

The Great Falls Historical Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization

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