By Lynn R. Mitchell
Francis Chester’s Cestari Farm in Churchville, Virginia. The sign on the silo says, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Mr. Chester, a self-described country lawyer and sheep farmer, is a dedicated member of St. Francis Catholic Church in Staunton. He is also someone I’m proud to call friend, someone who takes up for the little guy and has been squashed on by the big guy.
Cestari Farm won Virginia Living Magazine’s 2013 Made in Virginia Award in the Style category. In publicizing the award, they wrote about this fascinating man:
“When you put Cestari wool to your ears, you can almost hear the sounds of life within it,” says Francis Chester, 77, who fell in love with the agricultural life in 1946 when his family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to a farm on rural Long Island. Chester financed college and law school with proceeds from a roadside farm stand, and when Chester and his wife, Diane, moved to Virginia in the late 1960s, Cestari Sheep and Wool Company was born.
Today, the Chesters and two of their three children operate a sheep farm in Augusta Springs and a second sheep farm and wool mill in Churchville. The mill’s cleaning process preserves the wool’s lanolin and gives Cestari wool its notable luster and durability. “Most commercial wool is cleaned in acid baths, which destroys the lanolin,” explains Chester. The company sells yarn in four weights for hand knitters, crocheters, and hand weavers, as well as wool socks and sweaters hand made or hand machined in Virginia. New this fall is a line of Merino wool throw blankets and baby blankets. Wool $6-$12. Socks and sweaters $10-$129. Blankets $59-$129. CestariSheep.com
The Appalachians are visible behind Cestari Farm when approaching on Rt. 250 from Staunton. Mr. Chester’s wool is some of the finest in America, and he is one of only five wool processing farms left in the U.S. (see Augusta County’s own Cestari Farms to feature wool products at New Hampshire show).
In 2012 Mr. Chester authored a memoir, “Bustin’ Outta of Brooklyn,” a fascinating read about a young boy who grew up in New York, earned his law degree, and found his way to Augusta County, Virginia, to farm and raise sheep (see “Bustin’ Outta Brooklyn” offered by Amazon.com) … and all the adventures along the way. Mr. Chester, you see, has had a very fascinating life. He has fought local government for the right to sell his wool products at his farm in Churchville that put his battle on Fox News, and he went up against local officials again during the 2009 real estate property tax issue when he gathered over 10,000 signatures on petitions from Augusta County citizens asking for a rollback of over-inflated property assessments at a time when the real estate bubble had burst. Mr. Chester takes the law cases no one else will, and he is tough but he is ethical and cannot be bought.
A trial attorney for more than fifty years, he is also an assistant adjunct professor for more than twenty years in addition to being the wool mill owner and operator. Now in his late 70s, he can run circles around those many years young than himself. “You’ll never rust,” I once told him, and he laughed with that Francis Chester hearty laugh, eyes crinkled and sparkling.
Rt. 250 through the village of Churchville was cleared and dry Tuesday afternoon.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
February 17, 2015