Fluvanna Faces: MJ Cathers

By Madeline Otten

Where do you live?

  • “I live on a 28-acre working farm where we raise alpacas and periodically open the farm to the public for special events.”

How long have you lived in Fluvanna County? What brought you here?

  • “We bought our place in 1982 with the intention of moving here when we retired. In the interim, this was our place to get away from the ever-increasing congestion in Northern Virginia. We finally moved here in 2013 and it’s been home ever since.”

Tell us about your family –

  • “I’m the second of four children. I have one brother older than me and two younger brothers. Even though we live in different states, we manage to keep up with each other’s lives and keep in touch regularly. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews who are grown and married with kids of their own who are now old enough to be starting their own families. I keep telling myself I’m not old enough to be a great-great aunt, but I am. My husband of 43 years died in 2015. He was my soulmate, my best friend. I still miss him. I still talk to him. He would love what I’m doing with the farm, but I’m certain he wouldn’t always agree with how I’m doing things. Nevertheless, he’d love that I’ve actually established a farm.”

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

  • “I wanted to be a social worker and I wanted to live on a farm.”

What was your very first job?

  • “My first job after high school was working in a group residence for mentally challenged girls, ages 9 to 21. My job title was “part-time teacher.” That meant I was responsible for keeping about 12 girls occupied on weekends, rain or shine, heat or cold. An interesting precursor to the eventual social work I did later in life.”

What do you do for a living?

  • “After retiring from 30 years of social work in substance abuse and brain injury, I have returned to my country roots. I’m living my dream of operating a small farm where I raise alpacas for their wonderful, super soft fiber. I only meant to raise and care for them, learn to spin and weave their fiber. Instead, I’ve been building an agritourism business with my alpacas being the stars of the show. I now have four farm hands that do the hands-on care, feeding of the alpacas and maintaining the pastures and buildings, and a newly-hired assistant who will be helping me with all the admin work involved in making Sacred Acres Farm at Wildwood a place for family and community group activities.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

  • “Genealogy research – It’s worse than eating potato chips! Once I start, it’s really difficult to stop. Especially when there are always more hints to follow. It’s been fun and sometimes downright amazing to find family members who preceded me. It helps bring history to life as I realize someone related to me lived through events I learned about in school.
  • Fiber arts – I love to work with yarns and loose fiber. I learned to crochet and embroider when I was 8 years old, knitting when I was in my late teens, and needlepoint in my early 20s. Now I’m learning how to process raw alpaca fiber and using that to make felted items for my farm store.
  • Reading – I’ve always got a few books going. The last few years I’ve been reading historical books on the two World Wars, the Holocaust, and the effects of our country’s economic development and westward expansion on Native Americans and people of color. I read a lot of non-fiction and occasionally intersperse that with lighter reading.
  • Walking – Anywhere. Anytime. Aside from my tractor, it’s my favorite means of transportation. That’s what inspired me to develop lots of trails through the 23 wooded acres on my farm.” 

What is one food that you could never live without? What is one you can never bring yourself to eat?

  • “Gotta have my fruits and veggies and fatty foods make me gag.”

If there was a zombie apocalypse, who are three people you would want on your team?

  • My youngest brother, Rick, my BFF, Charlotte, and a highly spiritual person.”

What are your three favorite movies?

  • A Simple Twist of Fate with Steve Martin — love and honesty triumph over greed and lies
  • Into the Woods with Bernadette Peters — every action has a consequence, good or bad
  • It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart — Like throwing a pebble in a pond, our actions make a difference in the lives of those around us.”

Which is better – a novel or a movie?

  • “A novel, always! There are so many more nuances in a book. A movie has limited time and usually has to be selective about which parts of a book to include in the movie.”

What fictional character do you wish you could meet and why?

  • “Jonathan Livingston Seagull — because he reached out to improve himself, developed into a highly spiritual being, and returned to his flock to share what he learned with others.”

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

  • “Start with the end in mind, then work to achieve it.”

What pivotal decision helped to shape your life?

  • “I came to Virginia in 1972 to stay with a friend for the summer, get a job, and earn some money to go back to school in the fall. I met the man who would become my husband, and I never returned to New Jersey.”

Tell us about a way you have changed over the years.

  • “In my early life I was afraid of many things. Over time I learned that the world is not a bad place, that there are many good people, and that it is possible for me to be comfortable in my own skin. Through a lot of conscious effort, making time for prayer and meditation, and following a spiritual path, I’ve had the chance to gradually evolve into having a close personal contact with the God of my understanding. It’s a nice place to be these days.”

What has surprised you about your life?

  • “That I actually turned out liking myself. I was not a happy person in my early life. I had to learn how to face and let go of a lot of inner demons. As I pursued a spiritual path, I learned the difference between reacting and responding, to let other folks be themselves, and to keep my focus on how I could change my own behavior to help keep my world peaceful. I’m not a saint, but I sure am a happier person these days.”

What’s one thing you still hope to accomplish?

  • “It’s hard to limit it to one thing. Currently I’m working on building a nice farm in the community that people want to visit. When I reach that point, I’ll be looking for the next thing I want to do.”

Tell us about your proudest moment.

  • “Graduating from college. Then after working a few years I went back to school and got my Masters in social work.”

Where is your favorite place to travel to and why?

  • “Alaska. If I hadn’t met my husband I had planned to move to Maine or Alaska. Both places intrigued me because of their colder weather. I love the snow. Here in Virginia I endure the summer until the seasons change to cooler weather.”

When you are having a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

  • “I give myself 30 minutes more to stew in my funk, and then I start the day over with a new 24 hours, no matter what time of day it is.”

What is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught you?

  • “People are more important than things or deadlines. Zoom has become a key way for me to keep in touch with family and friends, and has made attending business meetings easier, without having to travel.”

What quote or saying do you connect with most?

  • “An anonymous quote: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ I want to like myself at the end of each day, so I’d rather spread kindness than fear.”

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