Panda Homestead is located just off Route 58 about 20 minutes west of the town of Franklin in Southampton County. The property is owned by husband-and-wife team Arcel and Paula Dulles and consists of 10 total acres, about 3 of which are wooded. They started the business in 2018 after relocating from Norfolk. It currently focuses on growing produce - including a UPick blueberry patch - raising livestock which they sell at a Hampton Roads farmers market, and inviting visitors to stay on the property at their guest house to learn about sustainable agriculture and self-sufficiency. They offer the opportunity to see how food is raised and grown and how it is all possible without using heavy machinery and chemicals. As Paula says: “On our homestead our customers can see our livestock living in harmony with nature and with each other; and they can see vegetables and fruits growing without the use of chemicals, using natural methods that help build the soil and do not damage the environment. Our dream is to empower families to become self-sufficient through farming, while enjoying country living and having fun.”
Paula Dulles is a Romanian immigrant and Arcel is Filipino. They had no previous farming experience when they bought their property in 2017 and moved from Norfolk. What they did have were family traditions rich in food culture. And they had a passion they wanted to share with their new rural community, and they desired to teach their young son how to live off the land. Thus, Panda Homestead was born. The name comes from the P and A in their first names.
Paula and Arcel are both IT professionals who are self-taught farmers, still very much at the beginning of the learning curve. Through lots of reading, particularly Joel Salatin’s books, they clearly understand the importance of using farming methods that improve the soil and do not damage the environment. They are slowly but surely reviving their pastures by using a rotational model for their pork and poultry, and fertilizing the soil only with our livestock, mulch and compost. They do not use any chemicals on the land and added some goats to their livestock family in summer 2019 to deal with the poison ivy on the property rather than spraying.
Paula is becoming very active in promoting agritourism, having spoke at the opening of the Virginia Agritourism Conference in Roanoke, April 2019. “We are unique to our county,” she says. “As we are growing and our dreams get bigger, we envision a Vacation and Learning Center open to anybody who wants to learn how their food is produced. We hope to bring many tourists to our county and be part of its economic development.”
They have received approval from the state of Virginia to put a Love sign on their property, which they expect will attract more visitors. Even though they are a farm business, they do not want to change their name from a “homestead” because they feel it is an important part of their identity in terms of providing an educational experience that encourages other people to get into producing their own food and food for their local rural communities.
The 0% SOIL Loan received by Panda Homestead from Slow Money Virginia in August 2019 went toward building a fence around the livestock portion of its property. This is a critical need as they hope to add more livestock to the property, including more pigs, and create a separation between the animals and visitors. Without the fencing, they can only accept very small groups, and have to limit access for children. Since agritourism is an important part of the growth of their business, they believe it is critical to provide safety for both visitors to the farm, and the animals living there
Pictured below is Nurture Capital at work on the Panda Homestead property as the fencing was erected with the help of a local contractor on August 30, 2019: