Holy Cross Abbey is a Cistercian monastery located in Clarke County, Virginia in the western shadow of the Blue Ridge. The monks take seriously their stewardship of Cool Spring Farm’s 1,200 acres and the bordering 3 miles of the Shenandoah River in its northern valley. Their comprehensive sustainable activities define a majestic crossroads of ecology and theology, marking a re-founding of the community’s respect for the sacred in nature. They started in 2010 by embracing recommendations from a study done by The University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. Sustainability and corresponding land use is at the core of the traditional “lovers of the brethren and the place.”
The monks sought help to improve the water and soil quality in conjunction with other more sustainable uses of the property as a whole. Robert “Bobby” Whitescarver of Whitescarver Natural Resources Management was a perfect match for the community’s needs. A former district conservationist for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Bobby is an expert in best agricultural management practices which are researched and supported by the many government and non-profit programs and agencies. One program the monks are establishing is the Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program or CREP. The program is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) through local soil and water districts. In exchange for removing environmentally sensitive areas from production and introducing conservation practices, landowners are paid a yearly rental. Cool Spring and its adjacent stream run into the Shenandoah River and for years provided the primary water source for hundreds of beef cattle in an area leased to a local farmer. That area is now fenced off and is mending nicely. The beef cattle now graze on protected soil. Native trees are being planted, the stream and riverbanks are healing as riparian areas, and a habitat corridor is being created. Wells have been drilled and lines extended for the cattle to have clean water source. Year round watering systems are in place to promote rotational grazing to lessen the impact on farm fields.
Holy Cross Abbey natural resources consultant Bobby Whitescarver talks about the monk’s efforts to improve water quality on their farm. It is part of their intense sustainability effort and tradition of land stewardship.
Holy Cross Abbey was recognized for their contributions to good stewardship of the natural environment by Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District in receiving The Outstanding Conservation Farm Award.