- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

Todd Brown has his dream job as a family farmer. The only wrinkle is that he doesn't exactly work on a family farm.

Mr. Brown handles the plows, feeds the chickens and milks the cows at Kidwell Farms at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., a setup intended to replicate a family farm, circa 1940. He gives visitors the whole spiel.

"I love farming and I love to talk about farming," he said, walking alongside the farm's corral on a cold, overcast day.

Mr. Brown soon will be the keeper of a national icon. Each year, the president receives a large, telegenic turkey (or two) that squawks and gobbles during a White House ceremony, giving voice to a uniquely American holiday.

But the president traditionally "pardons" the birds from the usual fate that befalls fowl before Thanksgiving. The lucky turkeys live out their days at Kidwell Farms, where Mr. Brown and his staff give them food and a private coop.

Frying Pan Park, an educational facility run by the Fairfax County Parks Authority, is nearing 200,000 visitors each year, Mr. Brown said. Many of the visitors are local students who are lead on tours by Mr. Brown and other employees. Visits pick up around Thanksgiving before dropping off sharply during the cold winter months, he said.

"You'll hear kids yelling at [the turkeys], waiting for them to gobble," he said with a chuckle.

But most of the young visitors waiting for the guttural clucking sound usually are disappointed.

"I'm here all day and I only hear it a few times," he said.

The White House turkeys are bred to become large with impressive feathers, but not to live long lives. They last only about eight months at Kidwell Farms, Mr. Brown said.

These and other animals, Mr. Brown said, are the main attractions for most visitors to the farm. He pointed to a woman and a small child in the distance who were ambling up the gentle hill toward the animals. The pair turned out to be Pat Herman of Fairfax and her grandson, Wesley, 3.

"Wesley lives nearby, and he likes the pigs and cows," Mrs. Herman said with a smile as Wesley motioned toward the animals.

Mr. Brown, 33, arrives at the farm at 6 a.m. daily and runs it as though he lived on the land. He actually resides in Culpepper, Va. He jumped at the chance to work at Kidwell Farms nine years ago, after realizing that his own family's farm was not his future.

His parents were originally dairy farmers, then raised cattle and finally switched to pigs. They had settled in the Shenandoah Valley when Mr. Brown was a child because land there was cheap.

But by the mid-1980s, the handwriting was on the wall for a small farm with a few chickens, a good garden and a main crop. Rapid suburban growth had made farmland expensive and the target of real estate developers.

"These days, it's either all or nothing," he said wistfully. "Family farms are hobbies."

Mr. Brown knew he would not be following in his parents' footsteps, and he struggled to find a new career.

"I'd had plans to run the family farm," he said. "For years, I was like, 'What am I going to do with myself?' "

There is no typical day on the farm, Mr. Brown said. He has to feed the animals and milk the cows each day, but a farm that does a little bit of everything leaves him with his hands full. The seasons dictate some of his daily grind, from sowing to plowing the fields. Animals can get sick or die.

This week, Mr. Brown was tending to the farm's small cornfield. First came the harvest, which filled chicken-wire bins with bushels of bright-yellow corn that will end up as feed. Then came the plow, to turn over the soil.

Finally, Mr. Brown, driving a tractor over a field with an ocean of cookie-cutter subdivisions in the background, gave the soil a once-over with sharp metal discs to break up clumps and prepare the field for a covering crop to prevent winter erosion.

Once the farm work is done, he can turn to the visitors. Children get the usual hayrides, as well as lessons on what it takes to run a farm.

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