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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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When the grass in the field got too tall, they bought a used tractor. When the field "begged for some animals to graze it," Levatino said, they got a pair of donkeys.
They realized the land could sustain more, and wanted livestock that would produce something. They chose llamas.
They eventually added flower beds and honeybees, herb gardens and an unheated greenhouse. Last year their hobby farm sold about $8,000 in bouquets and eggs, honey and vegetables at two markets in Charlottesville.
"As you can see, we're not making a living off the farm, but when you add in the tax breaks and the money we make at the market and the food we eat, all that stuff ends up paying off," Levatino said. "We are slightly a profitable farm, if you don't add in mortgage and insurance."
But as the two would attest, the benefits of sitting on the porch, gin-and-tonic in hand, after a long day at the market or garden go far beyond finances.
Their menagerie includes two roosters, 19 hens, two dogs, five cats, two donkeys and two llamas. They don't plan to become breeders, because they're not meat-eaters. They purposely bought male donkeys and llamas, and gather eggs daily so the hens can't hatch them.
Cats and dogs are spayed or neutered. If the couple take on another pet, it will be because an animal needs a home.
Blecha and Levatino don't have goats or cows because they don't want the daily chore of milking. They avoided horses because of their high maintenance and expensive vet bills.
"The dogs and cats need more care than anything on the farm," Blecha said.
Everything else contributes to its upkeep. Chickens lay eggs, llamas produce wool and donkeys guard pastures.
NOT A BURDEN, BUT A JOY
Blecha and Levatino chronicle their journey toward self-sufficiency in "The Joy of Hobby Farming," a book published April 1. Levatino was approached by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City, and he and his wife took on the project to share their experiences.
They relied heavily on farm books when they started. Most were either technical how-to guides with black-and-white drawings, or a city slicker's version of life in the country.
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