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Louisa County couple produces flowers and vegetables, honey and eggs as 'hobby farmers'
Taking time out to meet with the staff: Michael Levatino picks up Lester, one of two roosters at the farm.
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By CATHY DYSON
Michael Levatino and Audrey Blecha have found a way to live off the land, as much as they can, without digging themselves an early grave or going into the poorhouse.
They call themselves hobby farmers. The term doesn't mean they're not serious about the flowers and vegetables they grow and the animals they tend at their Louisa County home.
It means they see farming as a lifestyle, not a living.
"Of course, I had a million ideas when we moved out here," said Levatino, "but we didn't have the money, and we didn't have the time."
In nine years, their operation has evolved from what they describe as overgrazed dirt to a 23-acre farm dotted with bountiful gardens and grazing animals.
The couple are always looking to plant or grow something new, while keeping the workload manageable.
"It's just the two of us," Blecha said, "and I don't want to hire anyone. That would totally defeat the whole idea."
The husband and wife, both in their 40s, moved to Virginia in 1992 from Oakland, Calif., where they paid a "king's ransom" for a one-bedroom apartment.
They longed for a place of their own, and found it after Levatino got a job transfer to the East Coast. A newspaper ad led them to a 23-acre plot about nine miles from Gordonsville.
The farm is in the Green Springs area of Louisa, about 55 miles west of Fredericksburg.
The two knew from the start that they would need off-the-farm incomes. Levatino works in sales for a publishing company in New York City, and travels a few times a month. The rest of the time, he works from a small office in the 75-year-old farmhouse.
Blecha had been a teacher, then worked part time at a library in Charlottesville. She recently quit to be at the farm full time.
All along, the two have stuck to their pledge to do something good for the earth--and to reap as much pleasure as possible.
Blecha and Levatino inherited two chickens from the previous landowner, then hatched one clutch of eggs and built a coop. They made raised beds for a garden, and fenced it in using cedar trees they cut and the side of a packing crate for a gate.
CHICKENS AND EGGS
The name of Audrey Blecha and Michael Levatino's farm is based on the first lesson they learned as hobby farmers.
They inherited two chickens, Ted and Bev, from the previous farmer, who kept dogs outside to protect the animals. Ted didn't roost in a tree the way Bev did, but rather on the front steps of the house.
One morning Blecha and Levatino awoke, but not to the usual sound of Ted's crowing. They spotted a trail of white feathers from the porch steps to the woods, and believe Ted met his demise in the mouth of a fox.
Blecha proposed naming the place Ted's Last Stand Farm and Gardens as a memorial. She and Levatino felt so guilty about not protecting Ted that they let Bev hatch a batch of eggs, hoping there was a Ted Jr. in the mix.
When seven of the nine chicks turned out to be males, which fought and crowed constantly, the couple, who don't eat meat, learned a second lesson.
"Unless you're prepared to live with multiple roosters, find homes or cooking pots for them all, or kill the males yourselves, then don't ever allow your chickens' eggs to hatch," they wrote in their book, "The Joy of Hobby Farming."
A photo gallery from the farm of Audrey Blecha and Michael Levatino, along with information about the products they raise and sell and the