4 Henrico properties land on state’s list of ‘Century Farms’
Vernelle Barr doesn’t know exactly how long Elmwood Farm has been in her family’s possession. Nobody does.
“I lived here with my grandfather and my father and mother, and it was long before that,” she said.
As of March 31, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had recognized just more than 1,200 farms in Virginia as Century Farms -- those held by the same family for 100 or more years. Henrico County is home to just four such farms – A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm; Colonial Acres Farm, LLC; Elmwood Farm;
and Taylor Farm.
“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” said Bill Nelson, part owner of Colonial Acres, the most recent in Henrico to earn the Century Farm distinction. “All business originate from that.”
Colonial Acres, located at the intersection of New Market Road and South Laburnum Avenue, reached 100 years in the Nelson family last September, he said. The other three Henrico farms have been in the same families for significantly longer.
Sally R. Taylor is taking care of Taylor Farm, which has been in the family of her late husband, Col. (Ret.) Samuel Gatewood Taylor, Jr., since about the time of the Civil War, she said. Samuel Taylor was in the Air Force for 32 years.
Stan and Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owners of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields, own the distinction of having the farm kept in the same family for the longest in Henrico. Their children are the family’s sixth generation living on the property, Stan Schermerhorn said. The farm is located in Glen Allen.
To qualify as a Virginia Century Farm, a farm must have been owned by the same family for at least 100 years; must be lived on, or actually farmed by, a descendant of the original owner; and must gross more than $2,500 annually from the sale of agricultural products. (Farms that don’t gross more than $2,500 may qualify if they are used for
bona fide silvicultural purposes.)
Taylor Farm, located in northern Henrico, is the only one that hasn’t recently made money from the sale of agricultural products.
“It’s now a designated tree farm,” Taylor said, “and we’ve been planting pine trees there since 1957, maybe earlier.”
Taylor doesn’t live on the farm but visits at least once a month, she said.
“It’s just the fact that it’s so serene and peaceful in that area,” she said. “It’s been just a very pleasant area to just go down and sit under the trees and enjoy the fresh air.”
Although she has a son, Col. (Ret.) Dr. William Gatewood Taylor, and daughter, Sallie Cole Cochran, Sally Taylor said she doesn’t think Taylor Farm will remain in the family after she’s gone.
“I don’t think either of them plans on coming back here,” she said.
Keeping the farm in the family longer seems to be a problem all four families are facing.
Nelson has two daughters who have finished college, but neither are planning on continuing Colonial Acres Farm, he said, unless something changes.
Barr plans to keep Elmwood Farm, located in Glen Allen, in her family, but doesn’t have specific plans for who will continue to operate it yet, she said.
The Schermerhorns also have a son, Luke, and daughter, Ellen, but they’re not going to force either to take over, they said.
“Our kids, they may never choose to grow their own food, but if they ever had to, they could,” Nicole said.
Despite being the oldest farm, A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields also appears to be the most willing to adapt to the 21st century. It is the only one with its own website, http://www.lavenderfieldsfarm.com, and the only one made open to the public.
“It’s come together, and it represents our farm and our business well,” Nicole Schermerhorn said of the site. “We’ve had that presence on the web continually for 12 years, and that’s made a difference.”
The farm has been open to the public for about 12 years. Stan Schermerhorn said it had been difficult to cater to the public’s needs sometimes.
“There’s a bench that overlooks the river, and people wonder, ‘Why don’t you have a hammock right here?’,” he said, “and we’re like, ‘Well, we don’t get to lay down.’”
The Schermerhorns didn’t always dream of being farmers. Nicole, originally from Sydney, Australia, has a computer background, and Stan worked in carpentry. In fact, no one in the Schermerhorn family ever had used the land as a main means of income before, Stan Schermerhorn said.
Starting off with 1.6 acres left to them by Stan’s father, the Schermerhorns saw an opportunity when some land left by Stan’s father to the Methodist Boys Home came up for sale.
“We decided that if we wanted to purchase that, we needed to make the land pay for itself,” he said. “It’s kind of grown from there.”
The farm now stands at about 40 acres, and the Schermerhorns are full-time farmers – for better or worse, they said.
“As they said, we drank the Kool-Aid, so now we’re here,” Stan joked. “We’d have to sell the farm, sell the business to get out of that.”
Originally 255 acres when his family first moved onto the property, A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields is not the only Century Farm in Henrico to have shrunk significantly compared to the start of family ownership.
Taylor Farm now stands at 100 acres, after beginning as 450 acres, Taylor said. She almost sold the remaining 100 acres recently too.
“I had a contract with [Henrico County] to sell it as a park,” she said. “I still hope that they would purchase it for a park; I think that would be the best use of that farm.”
Barr has also been in talks with Henrico County officials about Elmwood Farm, she said. Holman Middle School was built on her property two years ago, leaving her with 60 acres, she said.
Nelson’s relationship with government agencies hasn’t been as pleasant.
“We don’t have the freedom to do everything we’d like to do, and what we feel is in the best interest of the land,” he said. “If we see a problem today with erosion or something that needs to be dealt with, we’re supposed to contact NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service] and the FSA [Farm Service Agency] office to get them to come out and look at it, and approve what we’re doing.
“[It’s] just a lot of red tape that slows down the process and sometimes stops it. The family’s been managing the property for over 100 years. It’s in better shape now than it was when we came here, and we did a lot of that without government assistance.”
As for being named to the Century Farms list, all four families expressed pride in being able to continue family history.
“It was a goal that I had set more to honor my father (Reginald H. Nelson IV) and grandfather,” Nelson said. “I wanted to see that recognition given to them.”
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