Journey to Soil Health… With Sam White and Amanda Paul, Leaning Pine Farm

By Nicole Oveisi, Fair Farms intern.

This piece was originally posted on the Million Acre Challenge website.

Established: 1939

Farm Size: 177 acres, plus an additional 100 acres rented in pasture and hay.

Product/Output: Beef, Raspberries, Free Range Eggs, Honey

Region: Western Allegany County

Favorite Piece of Farm Equipment: Bobcat 3400 Side by Side and two O’Brien Geared Reels

In 1938, Wilbert Paul started out as a dairy farmer with “three cows and one blind pony,” as the family puts it. After just a couple of years, Wilbert purchased his first tractor—a 1938 Allis Chalmers B., which is still in his family today. Wilbert’s son Jim eventually took over the farm with the help from his daughter Amanda Paul and her husband Sam White.

In 2003, Jim decided to make a major shift to beef production for economic reasons. Milk prices had fallen to just $0.90 per pound, and Jim had already cut the size of his herd in half (to 30 Holsteins) a couple of years prior.

“At that milk price and the then-cost of feed and supplies, a dairy farm needed 250 cows to break even,” Sam said.

Even as the farm changed its production model, the Paul family held fast to their values as strong soil conservationists. Leaning Pine was the first farm to implement contour plowing in the Central Appalachian Mountains, setting up diversion terraces that ran over a mile long on the farm to prevent soil erosion on the steep slopes. When Sam was dating Amanda and first sat on one of their tractors, Jim looked at him in the way only a future father-in-law could and said, “Don’t make ruts.” When Jim passed in 2009, his brother Gene took over the farm, however Sam and Amanda have run the family business since Gene’s passing in 2015.

Since then, they have maintained Leaning Pine’s legacy of prioritizing soil health. A two-day regenerative agriculture workshop Sam attended in 2015 inspired them to immediately adopt mob grazing on the farm. Mob grazing—or managed intensive grazing—is the practice of moving livestock at least once every day between different pastures or paddocks in order to ensure a more even distribution of manure for dung beetles, which scavenge the nutrients and take them underground to fertilize the soil.

“Science, conservation, and common sense are the pillars of our farming operation,” Amanda says. “The changes to our land have been profound with mob grazing.”

Sam and Amanda recognize that although these types of farming are time- and energy-intensive, they are also more cost effective and generate more profit per acre than their previous farming methods. Management intensive rotational grazing has also improved the taste of their product.

The Leaning Pine Farmers maintain that certain current industrial agricultural practices are unsustainable. “[Intensive agricultural] practices that use plows are causing us to lose enough topsoil that the world will be out of topsoil in 80 years. That’s game over,” Sam says. “We have to drastically change the way we do it.”

Leaning Pine specializes in raising quality beef through sustainable, soil-health-conscious practices. In addition to 100% grass-fed beef, Sam and Amanda also harvest honey, free range eggs, and raspberries. No hormones, antibiotics, herbicides or pesticides are used on the farm.

For Sam and Amanda, diversity and value-added products are “key to securing a farm’s future” in today’s challenging farm economy. They sell their raspberries by the pint to local co-ops while “uglier” raspberries are sold to local ice cream shops and bars. Otherwise, Leaning Pine focuses on a direct market to the customer by selling directly from the farm.

In joining the Million Acre Challenge, Sam and Amanda hope to demonstrate the positive impacts of healthy soil management on their farm’s profitability while also contributing to the environment as good land stewards.