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A Scientist’s Path To Farming & Conservation

A Scientist’s Path To Farming & Conservation

By Dulcy B. Hooper | Photos by Joanne Maisano

While Dr. Peter J. Basser and his wife, Georgia Ravitz, reside mainly in Washington D.C. with their three children, a dog and a cat, their passion is clearly for country living.

Basser is a noted inventor and scientist (more on that below) who said that “the farming bug just really bit us.” In 2007, the couple purchased their first farm, ten acres on Christina Lane in Middleburg. “It has a three-staff barn and just a nice place to come out to on the weekends,” said Basser. Those ten acres inspired what was to come: “That farm was just the beginning,” said Basser.

Next up for the family was East Lynn Farm, a 143-acre farm straddling both sides of Airmont Road in Round Hill. One of Loudoun County’s oldest working farms, East Lynn dates back to the early 1800s and is described as “Where more than 140 acres of land meets more than 140 years of history.”

A plan to subdivide the property into 14 ten-acre tracts had been put in place years earlier, including plans to demolish the historic farmhouse. “There were big development plans in the works before we bought it,” Basser said. “In fact, it was nearly lost to residential development.”

Now, the property has been placed in a Conservation Easement to preserve it in perpetuity, and the farmhouse (which had been condemned) has been fully restored. “We have a variety of animals on the farms,” Basser said, “Black Angus cattle, donkeys, sheep and lambs.” All of the farm’s animals are pasture-raised and East Lynn Farm features sustainably-grown organic gardens, 100 acres of pastures and nearly 40 acres for hay production.  Blasser said that while the original plan had been to just restore the farm, “People started telling us what a good place it would be to hold weddings.”

Voilà! East Lynn Farm became a wedding venue, with weddings taking place in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. Brides and grooms can choose to tie the knot in the open pastures and fields, in one of the historic barns, near a pond, or in the midcentury industrial milking parlor featuring a galley walkway framed by the original milking stations and complete with vintage galvanized metal piping and old milking stanchions.

Next up for the couple was Fair Oaks Farm, an historic farmstead located at 23718 New Mountain Road near Aldie. The house was built in 1881 by Alexander Moore, whose family had operated the Aldie Mill for a number of years. The farmstead includes three other buildings, along with the 1844 Moore family cemetery. “It was pretty much the ‘Seven Corners’ of its day,” Basser said. “So many paths to commerce crisscrossed through that property.”

Fair Oaks Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, and Basser clearly has respect for its history. “We’re in the process of meticulously restoring the farmhouse and outbuildings,” he said. “And the house looks like it did during the time of the Civil War.” Basser said the work is approximately 80 percent done.

The family lives in D.C. but comes out frequently. The Basser children range in age from 13 to 20. “It’s like going on a vacation,” Basser said. “Only an hour away. But it’s not really a vacation – we work on those properties. It is the diversity of the work and the change of pace from D.C., but there is always something to be done.”  

The couple has been recognized for their contributions to land conservation and historic preservation. “Being able to look at that farmhouse and the beautiful rolling hills is an honor,” said Basser. “I am glad that we were able to rescue and restore an historic farm that was nearly lost to suburban sprawl.” ML

Peter J. Basser, Ph.D., Associate Scientific Director for Imaging, Behavior, and Genomic Integrity at the National Institute of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. His area of expertise is an equal mouthful for the non-scientists among us – his work is focused on developing diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (dt-MRI) and streamline tractography, which enables neurosurgeons to visualize and avoid sensitive structures within the brain. In recognition of his accomplishments, Basser was elected in January to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. 

This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.

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