A modern-day Jane of many trades, Todd McDevitt Hopkins ’77 lives a multifaceted life in rural Columbia County, Pennsylvania, as a full-time pediatric physical therapist and owner of the successful and sustainable Forks Farm.
It’s a busy life, but Hopkins’ enthusiasm for embracing the world around her was instilled in her at an early age—during her 14 years as a Shipley student. “It allowed me to find a passion, and to find something that I could make my life’s passion,” she says of her Shipley experience.
A family affair, both of Hopkins’ sisters and her mother also attended Shipley. Looking back at her time on the Shipley campus, Hopkins most vividly recalls the remarkable impact her teachers made on her young mind. In particular, Hopkins recalls the hours spent investigating fruit flies in science classes with instructor Ruth Symington. “She gave me a life-long love of science, and I cherish that,” says Hopkins.
“I think I remember almost all of my teachers at Shipley, but in college only a few,” says Hopkins, who can talk about Mrs. Symington and name many of her other teachers from more than 35 years ago, including Mr. Berringer, Mrs. Webster, Mr. Staples, Mrs. Trice, and Mrs. Etris. “I truly do remember them with amazingly fond and positive memories. I think that’s a gift.”
Shipley afforded Hopkins far more than merely great memories, though; Hopkins credits the school with empowering her to achieve her dreams. “Shipley helped create a drive inside of me—I never want to stop learning, I never want to stop having passion,” she says.
More than three decades later, Hopkins’ passion for her life’s work is in no short supply.
After graduating from Shipley, Hopkins continued her schooling, earning her Bachelors of Science at the University of Richmond, a Master of Social Work from the University of Virginia, and a degree in physical therapy from the Medical College of Virginia.
To this day, even with her obligations at Forks Farm, Hopkins is a full-time pediatric physical therapist, working year-round in schools and beyond with kids in need. Her schedule, though, allows for enough flexibility to balance both her work with children and her duties to a farm in need of tending—which are considerable.
Humble Beginnings Reap Great Rewards
Forks Farm began simply when Hopkins and her husband, John, bought the Columbia County property in 1986 after spending time on sprawling ranches in Colorado. “We decided we really wanted our own farm, but couldn’t afford it out there,” says Hopkins, who also wanted to be closer to her family in Pennsylvania.
The acreage in Orangeville was a compromise, and one that has reaped great success. The farm was really going to be my husband’s thing,” says Hopkins, “but it has just really grown way beyond any concept of what we thought it would be.”
“We just started growing food for our family,” says Hopkins of the farm’s humble beginnings. “Then, we started growing for neighbors and a community grew out of it that supported us, both physically and emotionally, and it’s just kept going and going and going.”
Now, more than 20 years after Forks Farm sold its first off-farm meat, the Hopkins currently tend a total of more than 160 acres to produce pastured chicken, eggs, and turkey, 100-percent grass-fed beef and lamb, and woodlot pork. Distribution of the deliberately farmed meat happens via buyers clubs and market days at the on-farm Forks Farm market, and the demand for the Hopkins’ products just keeps growing.
Sustainable and In-Synch
“It’s now reached a point where we are as big as we can possibly be and be sustainable,” says Hopkins, who, with her husband, has been devoted to pasture-based sustainable farming since their beginnings. “Our goal was to do no harm, basically,” she says. “We grow animals in synch with the nature that is here, and we live in a very beautiful part of the world.”
A commitment to respecting the cycles of the seasons and raising animals in their natural environments means a lot of hard work on the farm. Forks Farm employs intensive rotational grazing—often called “mob grazing,” explains Hopkins—that means animals graze the fields in rotation, moving constantly depending on how much rain has fallen and how much grass has grown.
With so much land and movement, the Hopkins depend on interns to lend a helping hand in the busy summer season. A seasonal internship program at Forks Farm has space for two to three young farmers-to-be to live on the farm from April to November, with a small stipend and free room and board. “They eat with us and live with us,” says Hopkins, “and really need to come with a passion to do this.”
Moreover, the Hopkins create opportunities for anyone who’s interested in learning about pasture-based farming or just looking to buy grass-fed meat, welcoming visitors to Forks Farm for a few hours, a day or an entire weekend. “We loosely use term “customer certified” and really encourage people who are going to buy from us to come and see the farm,” says Hopkins. “Come spend the night, spend the day.”
Creating Community Through Agriculture
In 2014, the Forks Farm Farmer’s Markets are set for the second and fourth Saturday of the month starting in June and running through October. With more than 20 vendors peddling everything from farm-raised meats and fresh butter to hand-spun wool products and handmade soaps, it’s a festive atmosphere. “People make it a destination and stay the day, which is really nice,” says Hopkins. Plus, many Shipley alumni support the market, too, which always leads to reminiscing. “To this day, if I run into someone who went to Shipley, even if I never knew them when I was there, they are part of my community and we get all excited,” says Hopkins.
Beyond the market, Forks Farm makes its products accessible by delivering to farmers markets and buyers club drops in Phoenixville, Devon, Media, Merion Station, Fairmont, and Wilkes Barre. The farm itself is accessible, too, with its fields and on-property campground hosting a multitude of school field trips, adult retreats, and family vacations, welcoming thousands of guests a year.
Hopkins loves having visitors and sharing the Forks Farm story. “I think it’s important to put a face on your food, put a face on who’s growing it, and to see where the food is coming from,” she says.
A passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture, Hopkins truly appreciates the opportunity she and John have had to be on the cusp of the local slow-food movement. “This is a really really exciting time for food because more and more people are becoming passionate about what they eat, and where it’s raised, and how it affects the environment,” she says. “I would encourage anyone that has any interest to get out there and go find a farmer!”