Education is essential to core of NaVera Farm’s values, and students and adults alike learn about sustainability through its Farm Life Foundation.
It’s written that to know a man, you need to walk a mile in his moccasins.
To know Bill Di Stanisloa, walk with him around his farm. It will be a slow mile because you have a lot of people to meet. Bill and partner Greg Ferguson will challenge your definition of people, by firmly recognizing animals as equal.
“At this farm, animals greet the people,” Bill says.
Meet your tour guide: a Muscovy duck named Yum Yum. Scratch his back and you may pass. At the gate, Communication Specialists Earl, Jenny and Scoot gather round with definite editorial opinions, shown by gentle donkey teeth tugging curiously at this reporter’s notebook.
Since 2010, NaVera Farm, home to the educational nonprofit Farm Life Foundation, a thriving organic egg and milk business, a growing apiary and 250 furred and feathered residents, has been first and foremost an animal sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. “Every ant has a home here,” Bill says.
Left: Bill Di Stanisloa and Yum Yum, a Muscovy duck. | Right: Greg Ferguson, co-owner of NaVera Farm.
Make no mistake, these tall, gracious men aren’t eccentric gentleman farmers. Their rigorous care for their animals comes from their hearts and from commitment to modeling environmentally and ethically sound sustainable farming practices, sharing them with their local community, Florida farmers and the world.
Recent interns have come to the farm from as far away as Haiti and Brazil.
Bill and Greg aren’t in this for fame, or money. Bill shares, “The cost to not only create but support a full-fledged farm with animals, raised beds, and greenhouses, and do it using organic protocol, is 250 percent higher than costs on a conventional farm.”
If you look at Bill’s history as a health and wellness innovator and activist for green practices in the hospitality industry, it’s obvious NaVera’s methods reflect his nurturing identity and holistic philosophy.
The organic farm is home to a variety of animals, each with their own name, and serve the greater good by educating students through the Farm Life Foundation.
“No one can treat or care for anything or anyone better than the way they care for themselves,” says Bill. “Our business is a reflection of us. Morning and night, all the water buckets are dumped and cleared. If you wouldn’t drink it, your animals shouldn’t.”
While their high standards of care mean Bill and his farm team pull seven-day weeks and 12 to 14-hour days, Bill stresses the personal benefits that come from such commitment. “I’m not sure who is taking care of whom,” he says.
Whether you’re a guest at their new bed-and-breakfast retreat, a first-time volunteer, or long-time member of the NaVera community, Bill makes sure “you learn the animals and they learn you.”
The first challenge for newbies is to learn all the goats’ names. “You need to know the names to have a relationship,” Bill says.
Second test is to count all the chickens. Since they’re free range, it’s mission impossible. Until Bill explains he doesn’t have chickens. Chicken, refers to the end product, meat. There’s no such thing as a live chicken, only roosters and hens.
“Kids are goats, children are children,” Bill says. “It’s not respectful to call a child a kid. If you don’t properly name everything, you dishonor it.”
If every ant has a home, Greg points out that every creature has a job. “The hens bless us with eggs and their number one job is parasite control. Because the hens do their job, we don’t have fly issues. And farms are supposed to stink — it doesn’t stink here.”
As he talks, Greg carefully passes a long, shallow basket full of eggs in delicate shades of brown, blue and green to his partner. It’s a small example of what these gentle men do with every class and event held at NaVera. They pass the eggs, the seeds, the knowledge to those around them, with infinite care for their world, and infinite hope for it too.
To learn more about the Farm Life Foundation visit farmlifefdn.org and to learn more about NaVera Farms visit naverafarms.com