Nestled in the northern end of the Blue Grass Valley of Highland County with the headwaters of the Potomac River running through the middle lies a quiet farm owned by SKE and Debora Ellington. It was purchased by the Ellingtons in 1982, becoming only the second owners of the 268 acres, but it dates back to an original land grant to the Colaw family in the early 1800s. When visiting Ginseng Mountain Farm, you will find yourself engulfed in the agricultural history of the region as you stand among the 17 original outbuildings located around the property. The Ellingtons and preserved and restored the various outbuildings which include turkey, meat, loom, spring, and wash houses along with numerous other barns and structures.

The loom house was an add-on to the property’s original log cabin, circa 1825. The loom can be found just up the road in the Ellingtons’ Ginseng Mountain Store.

Highland County, known as one of the last remaining unspoiled areas in Virginia, is scattered with farms and fields that feel as old as the land itself. Located on the northern face of Ginseng Mountain, across the valley to the south side of Gulf Mountain, Ginseng Mountain Farm perfectly encapsulates the scenic beauty that can be found throughout the region. As conservationists, the Ellingtons practice sustainable farming to help preserve the natural beauty of their land.

When SKE and Debora first moved from the Charlottesville area in 1982, they focused on raising, “anything what would have a baby. We had chickens. We had goats. We had draft horses.”

Currently, they are raising grass-fed, registered Angus cattle along with native highland sheep. SKE estimates the sheep flock to be well over 100 years old as they are descendants of the original flock owned by the Colaw family. In addition to livestock, the Ellingtons also have an organic vegetable garden to grow all of their own produce in an effort to be self-sustainable.

Approximately half of the property is wooded and, with the river flowing through the farm, is the perfect environment for wildlife to thrive. When asked about her favorite aspect of the property, Debora quickly replied, “I love the river, except when it floods. I love the scenery. We have hay meadows, pasture, and woodland. A little mix of everything.” The farm is home to a wide variety of wildlife ranging from turkey, deer, bear, and native trout. After just a brief conversation with the Ellingtons, their passion of protecting the natural environment for future generations is evident.

The South Branch of the Potomac River, found running through Ginseng Mountain Farm, provides some of the best trout fishing in the state and, is home to Bald and Golden Eagle populations.

The relationship between Conservation Partners and the Ellingtons was founded on their ownership of an old general store adjacent to the farm. Shortly after starting her job with Conservation Partners in November of 2018, Kelli Iddings, Director of Conservation Programs, visited SKE and Debora’s store while exploring Highland County with her mother. After meeting Kelli, and learning more about Conservation Partners, the Ellingtons decided to donate a conservation easement to ensure their unique farm was protected in perpetuity.

The old general store sells locally made goods and crafts, as well as produce and meats from Ginseng Mountain Farm and other local farms. Stop on by and say hello!

According to Debora, “There was a whole lot more to the process than I ever thought there would be, so I’m certainly glad you guys were there. I don’t think we could’ve worked through it nearly as well without you.”

SKE expressed his appreciation of Conservation Partners’ advance funding program, which covered many of the upfront easement donation costs at no interest with reimbursement from the sale of the land preservation tax credits.

“What you guys did was perfect, and I’d recommend it to anybody.”

SKE and Debora’s decision has ensured that this hidden gem in “Virginia’s Little Switzerland” will remain that way for future generations.

To discuss protecting your land, call or email Conservation Partners at 540-464-1899/


Thank you to SKE and Debora Ellington.

Thank you to Mark Bychowski.