Down by the river

1 Jun

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Jane Cornelius Steele has had an eclectic career.

The 1974 family environment graduate has worked in international education, physical therapy, health communications, and therapeutic horseback riding. She once drove a truck for Linn County Extension and taught home repair. She’s lived in Bolivia, Honduras, Sri Lanka, and Washington, D.C. She has a prolific backyard garden and raises chickens.

Longtime friend Gary Kirby says Jane is an “earth-loving, tree-hugging, organic recycler.”

Jane lives in Verona, Va., four hours from the ocean, half an hour from Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mountains surround her home, and a river demarcates the edge of her property line.

“I told a real estate agent, ‘Let me know if something comes up on the river,’” she said. “And there had to be room for a garden.”

Jane’s one-acre lot has plenty of space to grow snow peas, spinach, arugula, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes (though, sadly, no corn) and house four laying hens named Ruby, Alberta, Henrietta, and Eggbert.

The chickens were Gary’s idea.

“Gary is impulsive,” Jane explains. “I think things out, look at my budget. He sees baby chicks in the feed store and just buys them.”

Jane grew up in Hudson, a small town near Waterloo, Iowa, and after living all over the world her only concern about moving to rural western Virginia was its potential lack of culture.

“I was concerned about the culture, but there’s so much going on here I can’t get to it all,” she says. The area, it turns out, is a hub for theatre, music, food, and art – a perfect place for Jane to pursue a career or two and, maybe someday, retire.

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