HEDGESVILLE – James “Jimi” Foltz has been scraping out a living the old-fashioned way for three decades. Farming by hand, planting his herbs by the phases of the moon, refusing modern fertilizers and pesticides, Foltz has built a life around raising natural, organic produce.
[cleeng_content id="169947147" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]But just like that of old subsistence farmers, Foltz’s living has been tenuous. Each year he has to save enough of the income he raises selling seedlings and fresh herbs at the Shepherdstown Farmers’ Market, where he serves as market master, to get him through the long winter, and to get his operation up and running again the next year.
“You don’t make money in this business during the winter,” he says. “You put out tons of money buying all of your materials and your fuel.”
It could have been deer or stinkbugs. It could have been a flood. But, as it happened, it was a fire that put Foltz’s Peace in the Valley Herb Farm and his way of life into peril.
Last Wednesday Foltz’s neighbors, who were waking up early for work, noticed flames pouring out of the greenhouse he has used for 20 years to give the roughly 100,000 herbs, flowers and vegetables he raises each year an early start so they would be ready to transplant when the spring thaw came. They called out fire crews who extinguished the flames, but the greenhouse, and the plants inside that had been carefully nurtured since January, were a nearly total loss. He had no insurance.
“It burned a large section of the greenhouse, plus all of my tools and all my seeds,” Foltz says. “It’s just astronomical what it took out.”
“When I first saw the picture I cried. It really hurt,” said Michael Spencer, a Frederick, Md. botanist and former curator at the Smithsonian who helps Foltz with transplanting. “It’s not just a greenhouse. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of life that is quickly disappearing.
“Everything is done organically, and everything is done based on old-time farmers’ lunar gardening. The old ways are dying out. Our culture is moving very fast. I’m not sure where it is going, but it is going there fast.”
Foltz has only a couple of weeks to get a new greenhouse built and new seeds planted, or it will be too late for him to salvage his year. “Most of the money I make is in April, May and early June,” he said. “It will destroy my life. I won’t have a business anymore. This is all I do.”
But Foltz’s friends and neighbors have taken up his cause, helping him clear away debris, salvage what can still be used and raise money to buy new lumber, seeds and tools. He said it will take $20,000 to rebuild the greenhouse and get it back in operation.
The day after the fire, friends had already set up a donation site at gofundme.com, where Foltz customers and friends had pledged more than $4,000 in the first few days. By Monday night, almost $9,000 had been raised.
He still needs to raise around $11,000, and quickly.
A benefit concert is set for March 16 at the Shepherdstown Men’s Club. The event will begin at 7 p.m., and will feature local acts The Folk’n Right Band, The Todd Coyle and Don Oehser Pots and Pans Band, Frum the Hills, Kween and The Luke Johnson Band – all of whom are donating their time. Admission to the concert is free, but donations will be accepted to help rebuilt Foltz’s greenhouse. Beer and wine will be served.
Foltz said he’s grateful for the community’s response.
“It means everything,” he said. “It is going to save my life and my business. What people in the community have been doing right now for me is just awesome. I don’t know how I can repay them.”
Spencer said it is Foltz’s commitment to the purity of his craft and the warmth of his personality that has brought out so much community support.
“He walks his talk,” Spencer said. “And you can see how loved he is by how many people showed up to help.”