SISTERSVILLE, W.Va. — David Clough, a veteran and former lock smith, grew up in North Ridgeville, Ohio. He lived for many years in Lorain County, working first with his dad’s home improvement business, then on his own lock-smithing company for 27 years and finally, as a gun smith.
Now, since 2014, he has lived on Creekside Farms with his fiance, Romana, and their two sons, over a mile up a gravel road in the hills of Sistersville, West Virginia. It’s quiet up there. It’s exactly what he wanted.
“There’s a couple things you gotta get used to,” he said.
Grocery stores have less fresh food. Most things are a half hour- or 45 minute-drive away.
“Other than that, it’s nice and quiet. It’s peaceful … people down here wave to you. People up in Cleveland have a different wave.”
Clough’s father and one of his brothers were both in the Marine Corps. Clough always knew he wanted to join, too. After high school, he spent eight years in the Marine Corps Reserve as a mechanic.
Clough is one of over 360 members of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program.
“A lot of veterans are getting into the farming because it is peaceful and it is therapeutic, so to speak,” he said.
The program, according to program coordinator Dane Gaiser, works with veterans on education and training, and marketing and business development. It was written into state code in 2015, so it receives state funding.
“Our commissioner, Kent Leonhardt, he is retired Marine Corps,” Gaiser said. “He used to keep bees and everything, and in maintaining his bees, he noticed that they really seemed to have a calming effect for him.”
Gaiser said beekeeping continues to be popular among veterans in the program, many of whom notice the same effect Leonhardt experienced. Some veterans have said it helps with anxiety and PTSD symptoms.
“We have an aging agriculture population,” Gaiser said. “In the past 20 years, we’ve lost around 50% of our farmers … the commissioner really thought that this is the way that we could potentially fill that void, by working with veterans and providing them the support they need.”
Clough started raising bees about 20 years ago. He still keeps bees for honey.
Clough also has 14 bison. He sells them as whole animals and plans to eventually sell the meat at the farmers market. He bought the first eight in 2007. The rest were born on the farm. He added pot-bellied pigs, a few horses and sheep to the farm as well.
He grows vegetables hydroponically in a greenhouse, which has over 1,500 sites for plants, and in a high tunnel. Clough built the growing system, including a nutrient system to feed the plants, and a cooling system in the greenhouse.
“I like working with electronics,” he said.
Clough wasn’t raised in a farming family, but he’s dedicated years to learning how to grow produce and raise animals, through workshops with Crop King, books and videos.
“I kind of figured it was what I was gonna retire to, with this property,” he said.
Now, bison graze in one of two pastures on the hillside. From his house, he can see the high tunnel, the greenhouse and a cabin he built. Even at the end of the season, he can pick a ripe lunchbox pepper to snack on while he shows off the rows of plants in the greenhouse.
It started when a friend bought property in St. Marys, West Virginia. The friend saw more ads for hunting property and encouraged Clough to think about it.
“He kept telling me, ‘you gotta come down and charge your batteries, if nothing else,’” Clough said.
Clough did visit and liked it. He started buying land in Sistersville in 2003 and now has a total of 78 acres.
“I figured this would be the place,” he said.
Before he moved, Clough drove down to the farm almost every weekend.
“Once I came down here, I kind of fell in love with the land,” Clough said.
Clough wants to share that experience. He plans to rent out a cabin he built as a weekend getaway, and to build more, smaller cabins to rent.
Clough’s brother summed it up after visiting one day: “You went down to West Virginia and asked if there were any parks for sale, and then you bought one.”
But there was almost nothing on the land when Clough bought it. It took him three years to get electricity to the property. Then, he started building and putting in two ponds. He stocked the ponds with fish, but he doesn’t get to spend much time fishing.
In the summer, Clough shows up at the Wetzel County Farmers Market with a trailer with his farm’s name and logo, a bison, painted on it.
Clough started a CSA program this year, but with a twist. Members pay for an account up front and choose a level depending on how many people they are feeding.
Customers get a newsletter each week listing the vegetables they will receive and substitutions they can make. The newsletter also includes recipes for vegetables that may be unfamiliar. Next year, Clough hopes to offer a cookbook instead.
Customers can get their vegetables at several locations including the farm, and can even pick the vegetables themselves.
Produce he deems too damaged for the CSA or farmers market goes to the buffalo. Gutters and tanks along the buildings collect rainwater, and extra water filters back into the ponds. The watering system for his bison draws from one of the ponds.
“I don’t think we should waste anything,” he said. “Might as well use what nature intended.”
Clough is involved in several outreach efforts.
“You’re not gonna make much money, I will say that,” he said. “When you’re out with the community … it is kind of nice.”
He is involved with the FARMacy program, which started in 2016 as a collaboration between Health Right Clinic and Grow Ohio Valley. Patients in the program receive a “prescription” for fresh produce for a set number of weeks, and had their blood tested before and after to see the results.
Clough said in his county, they also provided samples of the food and a cooking class so patients learn how to use the less-familiar vegetables. They have had about 22 patients out of 25 come back each week.
He also participates in pop up markets at schools. Students are given $4 worth of tokens that they can use to buy vegetables of their choice. The markets let students try vegetables that they might not usually get.
Some people in the area may be limited by their income or location. Clough said some of the students do not recognize cucumbers or other vegetables.
“I get how some of these kids don’t know what it is,” Clough said. “We’re trying to change that.”
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