Ellie and Don Pruess: City Kids Turned Organic Beef Farmers

Here's the story of how a couple big city restauranteurs turned themselves into rural, back-to-the-land organic beef farmers.

| September/October 1978

How do a couple of middle-aged Big City kids pull up stakes, move to the country, oversee the construction of their own very efficient solar-heated house, rebuild a completely run-down pasture, and then successfully establish themselves as "all natural" organic beef farmers? 

Quite gracefully, if that couple happens to be Ellie and Don Pruess , owners and operators of the Teel Mountain organic beef farm outside Stanardsville, Virginia. And if that name sounds familiar, it's only because you've seen Teel Mountain's "Veal and baby beef, milk-fed, raised naturally at mothers' sides, no hormones, insecticides, or antibiotics used. Tender, delicious. Supply limited" ads running in such widely varied publications as Natural Food & Farming Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.  

But just how do a couple of happy, fun-loving, down-to-earth folks take life into their own hands and build an organic farm from scratch? And how do they make it pay off  even when—as happened last fall—their fields are attacked by hordes of army worms? MOTHER EARTH NEWS staffer Bruce Woods recently visited Greene County, Virginia and spent a pleasant afternoon (an afternoon which ran on far into the night) talking to Don and Ellie Pruess. And that conversation turned up just the kind of answers that you'd probably expect ... plus, perhaps, a few unexpected surprises too!  

PLOWBOY: Don and Ellie, the things you're doing here—farming wholistically, living in a solar-heated house, controlling pests with environmentally sound methods—certainly aren't new ideas, as I'm sure you'd be the first to admit.

But your operation is unique, because you've taken a whole raft of what most folks tend to think of as "dream stuff," blended it all together, and turned it into a practical way of living and a profitable working farm. How did you do that? What brought you to Teel Mountain in the first place?

DON: Well, to start at the beginning, both Ellie and I are Oregonians. She was born in Portland and my family moved to Grants Pass shortly after my birth. I guess you could say I was raised there from "year one."

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