After devastating accident, Va. mail carrier keeps farming
WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Life changed here in an instant for Lorrie Atwell Jones, a local sheep farmer, on Nov. 19, 2019.
She remembers that she was leaning to the left to make a left-hand turn on her rural mail route just outside of town.
The next thing she remembers is a man’s face close to her face saying “you are back.”
She had no idea of why this was happening. As time wore on, the man, an off-duty paramedic from another town, helped her understand there had been a wreck. Her vehicle had been hit from behind by a big pickup truck traveling at 55 mph.
In the resulting twisting of her vehicle as it spun over and went into a ditch she had hit her head on something and been knocked out instantly.
She remembers asking repeatedly if anyone was hurt and him saying, “yes, you.”
She had a gash on the back of her head that was bleeding profusely and cuts on her face. She had sustained a serious shoulder injury. Months later, she learned she had come close to being paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury.
Her immediate concern was for the security of the mail. Jones somehow made the man understand that her postmaster had to be contacted. He helped use her phone and she was able to talk the postmaster who came and took care of the mail while rescue workers took care of Lorrie.
She remembers giving the paramedic instructions but also overhearing him telling the EMTs she had been talking gibberish.
A year later Jones is still awaiting surgery for an injury to her shoulder and making adjustments in the way she does things at Tilted Barn Farm in the Gunton Park community near Max Meadows. She is no longer able to work full-time for the postal service but is doing some part-time work at the post office.
Jones has continued to work on the farm and until this month has had a teenaged boy helping her. His school hours and her lack of money made it necessary let him go.
Jones raises Jacob sheep on the 80-plus-acre farm she inherited. In an on-farm interview, her passion for farming, reclaiming the land her grandfather had farmed, her sheep and life overflowed as she talked.
For 13 years she has been trying to bring the farm back. This goal is driven by wanting to improve the soil and forage.
“I’m trying to do it as naturally as possible because I don’t have the money to do it any other way,” she said. “I do this farm to manage the land.”
Her goals are to raise her own food and keep the land for her girls.
Since she is a small woman, Jones has tried to fit her livestock and efforts to sizes she can manage. Size was a major factor in her choice of the Jacob sheep. The small British breed is a piebald breed with dark colors on white. They are polycerate, meaning multi-horned. Most have four horns but some in her flock had four, five or six.
The Jacob’s temperament may be even more important to her. She says stress doesn’t bother them. They are gentle creatures, not bothered by a reporter walking among them. They followed along on a tour of their pasture to their hoop field barn. Just curious.
Jones said the Jacobs are tough as nails. She said they have very few birthing problems and are less susceptible to worms.
She uses pumpkins in the fall to help fight worms. She gleans the pumpkins from the neighborhood, collecting pumpkins from neighbors who are wondering what to do with them after Halloween. This year, due to her injuries, she bought a pick-up truck load. She said cattle grazing the fields also help with worm control.
She chose Dexter cattle for their size to graze the land and help improve it. They are the smallest of the European breeds, about half the size of a Hereford cow. They originated in Ireland.
“The cows have drastically improved the pasture,” she asserted. “This is the third year and every field I have put them into has improved drastically.”
She is working to reclaim fields that were covered with multi-flora roses and blackberries when she began. She is now fighting “broom sage” and planned to burn a field to control it later in the day. This will allow the underlying grass to grow and provide winter pasture, she hopes.
She said soil tests show that she does not need to put lime on the heavy clay soils of her farm.
Jones is a firm believer in non-GMO for bother her family and works to insure that is what she feeds them. She has her own greenhouse where she grows her family food in raised beds.
A big plus for the farm is new fences. She said the fences were in bad shape when she launched her farming career but thanks to cost-share programs she has strong new ones.
The wreck has meant all kinds of things have not gotten done on the farm. Paying help meant there was not money for other things. What does get done is harder to do.
“I can do things but it takes me twice as long,” Lorrie explained. “I can’t carry a bucket. I have to take the vehicle more (A small SUV that clings to the steep farm hillside.) I couldn’t lift a pumpkin. I can’t wrestle a ram.”
Still, Lorrie considers herself lucky. She is alive and farming. She knows she came within less than an inch of being in serious trouble due to a twist in her number two vertebra. It was undetected for some time after the accident.
She has a to-do list with a million things to do, she says.
“Maybe next time” and “sometime soon” have become familiar phrases for Jones.
“As long as I’m doing something, it’s progress,” she said.