Bobby Hall believes he has discovered the secret to great soil. He found it gazing up towards the sky instead of looking at the ground beneath his feet. He realized that the trees in the forest do not have need for the tender care that is given to vegetables and landscape plants. Trees just grow wherever a nut or seed has dropped; no watering, no mulching, no pruning. Taking this into consideration he decided to utilize wood to its best advantage in his sprawling garden. Deep woodchip mulch creates the pathways between his raised beds and in-ground rows. Woodchips are also used as the base for the soil itself. Woodchips, leaves, and grass-clippings are layered in the beds as needed and break down into a gorgeous dark, moist soil.
Bobby and Wanda Hall are both originally from North Carolina and a missionary calling led them to this corner of West Virginia. They have been the caretakers and managers of a church camp a half an hour outside of Huntington for over a decade. The camp hosts church mission groups, retreats, weddings and family reunions. The grounds include rolling hills dotted with a fishing pond, swimming pool, a gorgeous old barn, sleeping quarters, and community buildings. Beyond the manmade features are over one hundred acres of woods crisscrossed with trails. We all know the phrase “almost heaven, West Virginia” and this expanse lives out those lyrics. The life Bobby and Wanda have built for themselves and their family is simple; work hard, do right by the people you meet, and have faith in the path set before you.
My family and I recently visited the Halls. After some cold water and warm conversation we braved the late summer heatwave to check out the garden. This is a serious garden – a riotous mix of plants. Okra, carrots, parsnips, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, peppers and potatoes are just a few of vegetables that are grown. No pesticides or herbicides are used here. Bobby and Wanda are committed to creating the healthiest soil possible so that their plants can ward off disease and pests on their own. In addition to their garden the family also keeps laying hens. These hens are pastured in chicken tractors and the tractors are moved through the fallow beds during the winter to infuse additional nutrients into the soil. The row of okra was of particular interest to me. Some of the plants are over six feet tall; and the red okra is particularly beautiful. I think I want to plant some next year as a landscape plant. The gorgeous red stalks are very striking against the green leaves and the flowers are beautiful. This is a plant that deserves to be shown off!
After perusing the garden we checked out the chickens. My daughter is enamored with all animals and immediately set about naming the chickens and conversing with them. The chicken tractors are small so that they can be moved by hand. The chickens are moved daily in a pattern that ensures the entire lawn is fertilized regularly. These hens are healthy and happy and the quality of their eggs proves it. A few fruit and nuts trees dot the yard as the Halls are adding a small orchard to their holdings. They also have a vineyard that sports an old-fashioned variety of grapes that Wanda turns into delicious jelly that is available right now at the market. Blueberries and raspberries complete their agricultural pursuits.
Vegetables, jams and jellies, and eggs. And we are not even done yet! Wanda is a serious baker and her breads are available at the market on a regular basis. Her sourdough, banana nut bread, and Granny’s Snack Cakes are among the fan favorites she produces. Using family recipes passed down at the kitchen counter these breads are true comfort foods.
The Hall have been selling products at The Wild Ramp for a little over a year. They heard about the market from a friend and decided to check it out during a visit to town. They received a warm welcome from Market Manager Shelly and were given the grand tour of our original market space. They signed on as producers soon after their first visit. They enjoy the community and extra income that comes from pursuits they are already following to feed their family. However, the Halls are not ever going to be our largest producer and that is not their goal.
Their goal is to share the fruits of the bounty they have been blessed with. And we are all the better for it.