Vanguard Ranch is a diversified farm business located in Louisa County just to the southeast of Gordonsville, Virginia. The farm is owned by husband-and-wife team Renard and Chinette Turner. They founded the business in 2007 on land they had purchased which they’ve since used to raise pastured heritage kiko goats and grow organic heirloom vegetables that they’ve sold in local markets in Charlottesville over the years.
The farm’s goat operation offers a unique product using organic, pasture methods not readily available through other local livestock farms. The goat meat is sold directly to customers as a ready-to-eat meal through the farm’s concession trailer, mostly frequently at live events and festivals, and in collaboration with other businesses such as breweries and wineries. The Turners have also begun hosting their own music festivals on property adjoining their farm, which offers additional sales opportunities for their farm-raised food products.
The Turners are the embodiment of hard work and dedication to local sustainable agriculture. Renard was featured in a book published in 2015 called The Color of Food. The book’s author, Natasha Bowens focuses on the critical issues that lie at the intersection of race and food with a collection of portraits and stories challenging the status quo of agrarian identity. Renard is not only featured in the book with his own chapter, but he is pictured on the cover. Renard has also been featured in the popular food and agriculture website, Civil Eats, as well as in the magazine Modern Farmer. In all his interviews, Renard stresses how he is working to change the perception young black people have of an agrarian lifestyle, which they often associate with slavery.
Renard has taken on many leadership positions over the years, including president of The Virginia Association for Biological Farming for three years, national secretary of The American Kiko Goat Association, board member of the Virginia State University College of Agriculture , member of The Minority Farm Advisory Council under former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He is also currently a team member of The Community Ownership Empowerment & Prosperity project of The Chesapeake Foodshed Network.
The 0% SOIL Loan they received from Slow Money Virginia in January 2019 was used to purchase materials to construct a squab breeding operation to help them diversify their business for the long-term. Squab are young pigeons that have never flown. For thousands of years, they have been a favorite meal for every stratum of society throughout the world. They were unequivocally the first domesticated poultry, even preceding chicken. More often we think of pigeons as annoying denizens of city monuments and buildings. In fact, these are rock doves, a relative of pigeons, and far less edible. Yet squab is considered a most exquisite ingredient in cuisines as distinct as Cantonese, Moroccan and French. The simple reason for squab’s universal appeal is the delicate, succulent flesh, truly unlike that of any other bird. Squab is a dark-meat bird, like duck and goose, yet the meat is not nearly as fibrous, rendering it far more tender. Before raising squab, Renard already had 30 years of experience raising racing pigeons, so he goes into this project not lacking for experience and know-how.
What’s very cool about this project is way Renard is building the squabbery. Here is his description: “Our birds will be housed in a custom designed spacious loft with plenty of natural light and fresh air. All pairs will have a double nest boxes which promotes the setting of a second set while the first set of squabs is just coming out of the nest. A soy free organic grain feed from New Country Organic will be fed. Fresh water from our farm well will be infused with herbs to impart an extra unique flavor profile. We will use industrial hemp bedding on the floor; it is a natural antimicrobial which we will sweep out and use for compost. The loft is designed for easy clean out from the outside, we will be able to sweep directly into tractor bucket to dump in our compost pile. All compost will be used on the farm for organic produce and herb production. The birds will have direct access to an all weather aviary free choice. Security will be provided by dogs fenced surrounding the pigeon loft eliminating the possibility for any vermin or snakes to dine on pigeons. Solar powered lighting and motion sensors will be used. Aromatic and culinary herbs will be planted around the lofts.”
Below are photos of Renard building the aviary starting in February 2019, with his assistant Richard Yates. The progression of photos takes us up through Summer 2019.