The Story

Gail Rose is a 65-year-old breast cancer survivor and organic farmer, living and working in the heart of one of America’s most beautiful landscapes, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. An extraordinary character, she has an indomitable spirit, wry sense of humor, and deep knowledge of raising food sustainably. But she faces an extraordinary task. She must keep her farm of over 100 fallow deer, about 130 heritage chickens, several acres of organic gardens, two dogs and one cat, –not to mention herself — alive, productive and thriving… against worsening odds.

Sheila & deer eat greensDOEVILLE is the story of three years in Gail’s life running her fallow deer farm. People have raised fallow deer for venison since Phoenecian times, but in Virginia, after a surge of popularity in the 1990s, Gail’s farm is the last of its kind. In the backdrop, the Shenandoah faces a worsening pattern of drought, and the whole country, a struggling economy. The future is highly uncertain for anyone who lives off the land. Gail has the added stress of running the farm on her own as a single woman, with age and ailments casting shadows on an already darkening scene.

There’s hope, too. A passionate communicator, Gail sells her produce and meat directly at the farm to a growing clientele, keeping her gates open for visitors whether they want to buy food, see the deer, or just soak up her wisdom. She nurtures visitors of all ages, smiling as the kids grow more knowledgeable from year to year, and the adults change their eating and buying habits. Gail has said, “This is where I am meant to be… this I know is what I am here on earth to do.” But even if one is lucky enough in life to find one’s true destiny, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy path to walk.

Gail, turkeys hensIn some ways, DOEVILLE is emblematic of the struggle of every farmer throughout history, but for this farmer, the stakes are higher. Gail is on a mission to practice healthy food and livestock management in a business that’s gone crazy with commercialism. Gail’s fight is not just to save her own farm, but to set an example of how we might better produce our food in America.

This year, things on Gail’s farm seem to be approaching a tipping point, and Gail is responding with the caution and vigor of an army general bracing for war.

Summer starts off hotter than usual and quickly becomes an agonizing wait for rain that never arrives. She perseveres, producing as many vegetables and heritage eggs as she can to pay the bills and keep her customers happy. It is a daily battle against pests and drought.

By fall, the reality of a much lower harvest than normal sets in, and she braces for even harder times ahead. Her heritage-breed hens are aging and have ceased to produce as many eggs as she needs to justify their expensive organic diet. Her fallow deer herd has grown too large, and the pastures too dry and barren to support them.

So, in winter, her usual preparations for next season become even more critical…and complex. She harvests deer to provide winter income, and to reduce herd size and select a new breeding buck. She plans for spring, organizing seeds, preparing the greenhouses, rebuilding the aging hen houses and ordering new heritage chicks to revitalize her flock.

buck in herdWhat spring, and next summer hold, remains a mystery.

DOEVILLE will follow farmer Gail Rose through three extraordinary years, from late summer 2010 through to fall 2013. No one can predict how Gail’s story will end…but the journey is sure to be one full of spirit, determination, courage, passionate devotion, heartache and hard work…and with any luck, a good share of victory.