November 12, 2020
Husband and wife team Casey and Justin Wisch at Long Stone Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia.
At Long Stone Farm, doing things the old-fashioned way was part of the farm’s rustic charm and worked just fine for owners Casey and Justin Wisch during their first six years in business.
Soon after starting their diversified livestock operation in 2014 in Lovettsville, Virginia, the husband and wife team saw significant consumer demand for their products, including pasture-raised non-GMO pork, beef, chicken, and chicken and duck eggs. In addition to selling pork shares, beef shares and wholesale to restaurants, in 2016, Casey and Justin opened an on-site farm store to sell retail cuts of meat directly to consumers. The store works on the honor system, allowing customers to shop at their convenience and leave cash or check payments in a secure lockbox.
The wholesomeness of Long Stone Farm, where visitors can meet the Wisch family, see them at work and watch their livestock graze, began attracting many new customers as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. Families from nearby Washington, D.C. and elsewhere discovered the farm as they looked for socially distant getaways and new sources of high-quality, sustainably produced food.
Long Stone Farm produces pasture-raised pork.
But the pandemic also brought challenges. Casey and Justin saw a decline in their sales to restaurants and cancelled numerous events they had planned, including their “Sunday Suppers” dinner series featuring local chefs and live bluegrass. Though the farm store remained open with additional safety precautions in place — such as more frequent cleaning, hand sanitizer stations and open doors to increase the air flow — Casey started hearing from customers that they wanted to pay digitally and limit contact.
“We needed to figure out how to offer that service,” explained Casey. Customers were commenting on the farm’s social media accounts that they felt limited at the store because it didn’t offer digital payment options. That’s when she decided this was a “must-switch situation.”
She set up a PayPal QR Code, giving customers a touch-free way to complete their payments while allowing her to continue farming and mothering her young children. Using their smart phones, customers are now able to complete their purchase by scanning the PayPal QR Code on display in the store and paying Long Stone Farm directly.
“I was a little hesitant at first,” Casey admitted, noting that she’s a slow adaptor of technology and prefers to keep things simple. “I was nervous to figure out how to use the QR Code, but we’re seeing about 70 to 80 percent of our transactions going through the PayPal QR Code now. It’s a very dramatic shift for us.”
As customers are able to buy more flexibly and safely, Casey is seeing average transaction amounts increase. She attributes this to shoppers no longer being limited by the amount of cash they have on hand, allowing them to be more liberal in their purchases.
“There are a lot of people that have been coming to our store for many, many years who have always paid with cash or check that are now paying with PayPal,” Casey said.
Customers at Long Stone Farm pay on the honor system.
The higher sales reflect how a small business can maintain its traditional practices and charm while incorporating new, flexible solutions that are good for both the business and its customers. But as Casey and Justin continue to evolve their business, one thing is constant: the Wisches remain intentional about farming without the use of chemicals. It’s part of their belief that farming and conservation go hand-in-hand.
Long Stone Farm is a grass-based livestock operation. All of their animals are pasture-raised and the family practices regenerative farming practices, implementing rotational and multi-species grazing systems that benefit the natural ecosystems. The Wisch family chooses to farm without the use of pesticides, insecticides or herbicides and their customers know the meat and eggs they buy are antibiotic and hormone-free. The farm also invests in pollinator and wild habitat strips to provide protection for bees, butterflies, rabbits, birds and other local wildlife.
“There’s a complex relationship between soil health, plant health, animal health and ultimately human health. It's all tied together,” said Casey. “We pride ourselves in how we produce food and the fact that we produce food for our community.”
The farm is a family affair. Piper, age 3, helps get feed for the chickens.
As the farm has grown over the past six years, so has the Wisch family. They have welcomed three-year-old Piper, two-year-old Boone, and the family’s newest addition, Timber — who was born just three days after our conversation with Casey. Because they live on the farm, the children are growing up with farm animals and wide-open space right outside their door. “To have the privilege to raise our kids here makes us extremely happy. It’s an honor to give them 100 acres to run around on where they have fresh air and endless activities.”
There aren’t many days off on the farm, but Casey said the chaos is one of her favorite parts of farm life. “I love that every day out here is a little bit different. You wake up some days and just hope that everybody behaves. That’s not always the case,” she said, laughing. “But on the days it is, you’re grateful to sit on the front porch, relax and know your day is done.”
As her children grow, Casey hopes that her approach to farming and conservation gives them a sense of responsibility and respect for wildlife. “It'll be nice to have them be highly aware of [animal] populations and the positive impacts that we create with the way we farm,” she said. But for now, she’s mostly grateful for the present — especially at a time when many small businesses have shuttered.
Customers at Long Stone Farm pay digitally via PayPal QR Code.
“We’ve brought in a lot of new customers this year and our customer base is what allows us to do what we love. We don't exist without [them],” Casey said. “We’re one of the farthest farm stores from Washington, D.C. in the area, so when people make that trip just to come to our store, that’s really special.”
The country charm is likely part of the attraction. On any given day, visitors will find one of the Wisches’ dogs, such as their German Wirehaired Pointer, Bulleit, racing up the dirt road to greet them at the farm, ducks roaming outside the farmhouse and beautiful wildflowers decorating the farm store. As customers take photos of the farm animals and tally payments on their digital devices, the setting serves as a reminder to slow down, disconnect, and soak in their surroundings.