Culpeper County is my home. I was not born in Culpeper, and I first visited in 2000, but Culpeper instantly became home.
I came across Culpeper randomly. In early 2000, I started spending Sundays driving a few hours from my job in Reston just looking around at places for sale. One of the trips that I took was 211 out of Warrenton to 522 in Sperryville. I then wondered up and down the road off of 522. Near the end of the day, I took a right on Griffinsburg Road and kept going South, looking for the next major road. After what seemed miles, I came across a beautiful farm that had a Browning Real Estate sign at one location on the road, another down a half mile, and another down another half mile. A little further down, I came out on Hwy 29.
When I called Jim Marshall at Browning, I learned that the Gore Farm was for sale. Nannie Maude Gore had passed away in 1999 at the age of 96, and she was the last of the four Gore brothers and sisters to die that had lived on the farm. One of her sisters, Gladys Carpenter, still lives up Reva Road from me in Old Reva, and she’s doing quite well at 98. I enjoy eating Mrs. Carpenter’s cooking and hearing stories about the old Gore farm when I get the opportunity.
The Gore Farm was 270 acres with approximately 200 open acres. The asking price was $675,000. I had never worked on a farm, and I had not lived on a farm since I was six years old. 270 acres was more than I had planned on buying, and $675,000 was a lot more than I had, and more than I planned on spending. I bought the Gore Farm, because I liked it, and I was confident that I would not go wrong long-term paying $2,500 per acre for 270 acres on Hwy 29 between DC and Charlottesville.
At the time I purchased the land, the Baldwin Brothers were leasing it for a cattle operation. I decided that if I owned the land, I wanted to use it, not lease it. I did not continue the lease with the Baldwins, and the cattle were removed from the property by closing at the end of June 2000. I did, however, agree to let the Baldwins continue to cut hay in the approximately 100 acres of hay fields in exchange for me getting 1/3 of the hay. In 2004, the cattle operation had expanded to a size the necessitated making the hay myself.
With about 70 acres of woods, that meant that I had about 100 acres of pasture that was growing quickly. When I signed the purchase contract in April 2000, everything was beautiful. By late June, I was distressed about the high grass. After all, I didn’t even own a lawn mower. In August, I bought a refurbished Ford 4000 tractor and a 6’ brush cutter (an off-brand bush hog). My neighbor and I caught up with and maintained the 100 acres with the tractor that year, and we maintained 200 acres the following year after I purchased an adjoining farm.
On November 17, 2000, I bought 10 Hereford cows and one bull from Alton Willingham. All were bred to calve in the Spring, and all had calves, the last one calving July 4, 2001. In the Spring of 2001, I purchased 13 Hereford heifers from Alton Willingham. Thus began the cattle operations of Underwood Farms. Of the 10 original cows, 4 were born in 1995, and six were born in 1998. I only culled for illness, lameness, bad udders, or infertility, but none of the 10 cows remain. That said, I am thrilled with my original purchase from Mr. Willingham, I liked the cows, and I learned a lot. Of the 13 heifers I purchased, two became recognized as Dams of Distinction by the Hereford Association, and another is among my best cows. I recently sold five of the 2000 heifers with papers to other breeders for substantially more than I paid for them in 2000, and four died or were culled within two years of me buying them for various reasons. Overall, I am thrilled with my purchase of the 13 heifers. As of 2009, three of the original 13 heifers remain on the farm, and they are among the best cows we own.
In 2003, I had the opportunity to add 111 acres to the farm through a purchase from Thomas and Louis Armstrong. In 2004, another 42.5 acres were added with a purchase from Doug and Joelle Giesler. A couple of other small land purchases have expanded the farm to its present size of 435 acres, stretching from Hwy 29 to Duncan Trail.
By 2008, Underwood Farms ran 250 brood cows over 1,200 rented and owned acres in several locations between Reva and Etlan. We made about 1,000 bales of hay per year to support our cattle operations.
In 2011, Underwood Farms contracted with Orbitz Worldwide to provide consulting regarding Internet travel. In late 2011, Tom Underwood agreed to join Orbitz Worldwide as an employee. Over the next couple of years, we gave up our leased land other than a couple of parcels for hay production. As of late 2014, we operate a herd of approximately 120 brood dams in two locations.