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FORT ANN - Laura Burch doesn't just serve the food at the Burch Family Restaurant, she births it, feeds it and slaughters it, too.

The Burches have been farming in Washington County for at least five generations.

The continually rising costs of operating the 350-acre Burch Family Farm in Fort Ann, including diesel fuel and labor, combined with low profit margins on their meat, led the Burches to just one conclusion to save their livelihoods: open a restaurant and sell their products to hungry patrons.

"It was about trying to make enough money to keep the farm going," said restaurant owner and Laura's mother, Lucy Burch. "The idea is, we raise the pig, the cow or the beefalo and then it goes directly to the plate."

Less than four miles away, a small herd of about 50 of the Burch's beefalo roam in a field. Some 40 sows and 100 grass-fed beef cattle also enjoy substantial space in nearby pastures.

Burch said they've paid increasing attention to what their livestock eats throughout the years, especially as members of her family have been stricken with cancer and other diseases.

"We started growing all of our own food because we thought our health issues were related to what we eat," she said.

Numerous studies have found commonly used hormones and pesticides to be carcinogenic.

The Burches have hosted pig roasts for years, often catering weddings or graduation parties. But in June, they took the next step and purchased a building on Route 4 in Fort Ann.

Open daily for breakfast and lunch, the Burches cook and serve pork, beef and beefalo (buffalo-cattle hybrids), along with chicken, eggs and vegetables produced by farms throughout Washington County.

The short jaunt to the Argyle slaughterhouse is the longest trip the meat takes, either in life or death.

Farmers have tried to increase profit margins for years, using farmers markets and "buy local" campaigns.

But costs have kept rising and Lucy Burch believes something like her restaurant could be a viable concept as small farms look to diversify.

The food markets have been dominated by mega-farms for decades, operating with corporate efficiency and financial backing. But increased public awareness about what actually goes into food have provided small farms with a niche, if they can exploit

it.

"Maybe something like this is part of this ‘go small' revolution," Burch said. "It's hit and miss. Everybody's trying different things."

She pointed to recently enacted caps on federal farm subsidies that are driving larger farms to downsize as proof that the day of the small, family farm aren't

over.

"The physical lifestyle is rewarding," Laura Burch said. "You feel like you've accomplished something at the end of the day."

And in the end, it's that lifestyle which Lucy Burch hopes her new venture can sustain.

"We hope that at least some of our children will continue on with farming," she said. "It's the rebirth in the spring, the smell of the dirt that captures you."

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