Wednesday, Nov. 8, the College of William and Mary’s Office of Sustainability hosted guest speaker Angi Kane to discuss her journey to becoming the Creative Director and co-owner of Jolly’s Mill Pond, a 200-year old tree farm and pond in Williamsburg, Va. Kane is also the creator of the Raw Land Startup and is the host of the Raw Land Startup Podcast, both of which provide marketing services and resources for small farms.
Kane is an Emmy award-winner for her work on the PBS documentary “HEARD.” She is also on the board of Belltower Pictures, a non-profit organization that produces films focusing on social issues, and was awarded Small Business of the Year by the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce.
“As a friend of mine has said, I’m a slasher, so I’m a documentary producer slash filmmaker, slash creative director. I wear a lot of different hats,” Kane said.
Twelve years ago, Kane and her family moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to her husband’s childhood home in Richmond, Va. to be the proprietor of Jolly’s Mill Pond, which had been in her husband’s family since the 1950s. Kane mentioned that records show the pond was built between 1780 and 1820 by enslaves individuals who dug out a hillside and created an earthen dam, which is part of Preservation Virginia’s registry of Endangered Historical Sites. The property consists of 100 acres of land and the 50 acre pond, which is mostly off the grid.
“Probably about 90% of the property is off grid,” Kane said. “We have a little bit of electricity, high speed internet for security purposes, but it is absolutely raw land.”
Kane and her husband feel a significant connection to the land.
“We’re stewards who want to protect this kind of unique ecosystem,” Kane said. “We have a lot of forest and land. We had to learn how to manage a lake, what goes into lake management, what goes into farm management.”
The water of the pond is of high quality for a man-made lake of its size and age, leading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and field studies classes at the College to venture over for examinations.
Kane went on to discuss what she has learned about small businesses from running Jolly’s Mill Pond.
“Over the past 12 years, through many painful lessons, we started to pull together the model that would be appropriate for us, and we know can be workable for other landowners or aspiring landowners to fit into as well. Hence the Raw Land Startup,” Kane said.
Agritourism, which according to Kane generates $2.2 billion in Virginia annually, is one of the methods she promotes for small farms through her startup.
“You don’t have to be toe to toe with the thousand acre farms or the more conventional farms. You can find what is unique to your property and leverage it,” Kane said.
Kane created a model she calls “the four legs of a stool” which includes events, accommodations, small-scale farming and e-commerce. Events such as cornhole competitions and unique lodging like glamping are examples that Kane used to explain her model.
“You can start low-budget with a tent and you can go on up to a luxury accommodation. People want an experience that’s different,” Kane said.
Addressing the small-scale farming leg of the stool, Kane spoke about specialty crops. She has interviewed other farmers about their own unique crops in her podcast.
“I’ve interviewed everyone from flower farmers to hemp growers, etc. Really, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can specialize in. And then thanks to the fourth leg of the stool, e-commerce, you can tap into an audience that isn’t limited to a specific geography,” Kane said.
Kane then gave some advice to people interested in working with small, sustainable farms.
She explained the different experts she works with at the farm, such as land-use attorneys. However, she also emphasized that other experts may not have titles.
“You also should keep in mind that there are other people without titles who are the experts that you may need. The old dude down the street who’s been farming since the beginning of time. He doesn’t have a title. He may not be formally educated, but he understands the land,” Kane said.
Kane still continues to build her team, now working with an organic farmer and planning to offer a sustainability internship in the spring and summer of 2024.
At the end of Kane’s talk the audience had a chance to ask questions. One question asked about Jolly’s Mill’s future plans. Kane shared that the farm plans on expanding on its Black history and culinary heritage with a “seed-to-table” approach.
“We want to start cultivating some of the ingredients that people grew during that time,” Kane said. “What types of foods, what types of meals were people celebrating with, particularly Black families, were celebrating within the 18th and 19th-century?”
Jolly’s Mill Pond has strong ties with Black history, particularly through one of its past owners, Jeremiah Wallace. He purchased the land in the late 18th-century as the farm’s first Black owner. Wallace went to Hampton University and was heavily involved with real estate in the James City area.
“He wasn’t a one percenter. He was a middle class man. But given the time that he did the things that he did, he accomplished a lot,” Kane said.
Doing research on his life, Kane found more connections between Wallace, Jolly’s Mill and Colonial Williamsburg.
“There’s this network of stories that we’ve started to learn about that really helps us understand how much richness there was at the time, even among regular working class people who were making their way,” Kane said.
The last audience question addressed what makes Kane confident in the future of Jolly’s Mill Pond. Kane said the farm has surpassed many challenges with limited resources, giving her more confidence. She also believes that telling the history of the land is key to connecting with visitors.
“We’re determined and our storytelling is going to be key to being able to do this,” Kane said.
Joslyn Colglazier ’27, who attended Kane’s talk, agreed that the emphasis on storytelling made the farm unique.
“I thought it was really cool. Just the idea of a small, sustainable farm and the idea of tying storytelling to make it successful, but also historically important,” Colglazier said.
Breegan O’Hearn ’25 works with the College’s Office of Sustainability and also attended the event. To her, Kane’s work with storytelling and Jolly’s Mill exemplify a path to a sustainable future.
“I think this goes beyond agriculture and into every sector of sustainability,” O’Hearn said. “The key to sustainability is listening to the knowledge of others and creating a community that amplifies the voices within it.”