By David Weissman, Special to the Citizen 06/28/12
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.”
George Washington is recognized as the father of our country, but with a bill signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington also will be recognized under another title – distiller of Virginia’s official liquor.
SB 1261, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, adds a “state spirit” to the list of the commonwealth’s official emblems and designations and crowns George Washington’s rye whiskey with the title.
The bill, which McAuliffe signed last week, highlights George Washington’s contributions to the culture of Virginia as “a native son of Virginia born on February 22, 1732, in Pope’s Creek”; “the first American president, commander of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention”; and “a model statesman ... universally acknowledged as the father of our nation.” > Read more.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday vetoed six bills, including three Republicans said would help prevent voter fraud but the Democratic governor said would create barriers to voting.
McAuliffe has now vetoed 37 bills from the General Assembly’s 2017 session – and 108 during his four-year term as governor, surpassing any of his predecessors.
Republican legislative leaders say McAuliffe has broken his promise to be bipartisan, calling his office “the most disengaged administration we have ever worked with.” > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 03/27/2017 Government
Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District will hold its annual tree seedling giveaway March 30 at Dorey Park Shelter 1 from 2:30 to 6 p.m., and March 31 at Hermitage High School from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Studies show that mature trees increase property value, decrease summertime cooling costs by providing shade, slow erosion and reduce flooding. They also provide homes for birds, food for countless creatures, and playgrounds for children. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 03/27/2017 Public Safety
MAR. 27, 11 A.M. – No one was injured by a townhouse fire that occurred early Monday morning in the 200 block of Knightsmanor Court, near the intersection of Azalea Avenue and Richmond-Henrico Turnpike.
The first Henrico Fire officials were on scene in less than four minutes and found heavy smoke and flames coming from the two-story townhouse. Firefighters from the first-arriving fire engine and ladder truck made their way to the townhome involved in fire and searched for victims through high heat and reduced visibility. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 03/27/2017 Government
In observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week (April 2-8), and to honor victims of crime in Henrico County and raise awareness about crime victims' rights and issues, Henrico County Victim/Witness will hold a commemorative ceremony and informative walk April 5. > Read more.
St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.
Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.
Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.
Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Metro Diner, a comfort food concept, will open its second Henrico location next month. The company is accepting job applications for its Libbie Place location at 5626 West Broad Street. The diner concept, known for its fried chicken and waffles, meatloaf, and shrimp and grits, will bring 100 new jobs to the region as it plans to open its doors in April.
The 3,500-square-foot diner located in the Libbie Place Shopping Center will seat more than 100 and serve classic comfort food staples with a twist, such as fried chicken and waffles topped with strawberry butter and a stuffed challah bread French toast with strawberry and blueberry compote. > Read more.
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CalendarRK Prepper Show’s Survival Expo will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mar. 25 and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mar. 26 at the Richmond Raceway Complex. Vendors will be on-site with everything from camping gear to off-grid living supplies, as well as long-term food storage, solar power, bug-out kits and tactical gear. Featured speakers will discuss topics such as preparing on a budget, food storage, body armor basics and more. Admission is $12 for adults, $5 for kids 6-12 and free for ages five and under. Full text