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.”
By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service 03/24/2017 Features
MAR. 23, 12 P.M. – Hello Kitty fans, rejoice. On Saturday, the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck, described as “a mobile vehicle of cuteness,” will make its first visit to the region.
The truck will be at Short Pump Town Center, 11800 W. Broad St., from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. The vehicle will be near the mall’s main entrance by Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.
The Hello Kitty Cafe Truck has been traveling nationwide since its debut at the 2014 Hello Kitty Con, a convention for fans of the iconic character produced by the Japanese company Sanrio. > Read more.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday vetoed several bills that Republicans say would have increased school choice but McAuliffe said would have undermined public schools.
Two bills, House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 1240, would have established the Board of Virginia Virtual School as an agency in the executive branch of state government to oversee online education in kindergarten through high school. Currently, online courses fall under the Virginia Board of Education. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 03/23/2017 Education
Individuals and organizations wanting to help George F. Baker Elementary School students and staff recover from a March 19 fire at the school now have two ways to help: make a monetary donation or donate items of school supplies.
The weekend fire caused significant smoke-and-water damage to classroom supplies and student materials at the school at 6651 Willson Road in Eastern Henrico.
For tax-deductible monetary donations, the Henrico Education Foundation has created the Baker Elementary School Emergency School Supply Fund. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 03/23/2017 Business
ChamberRVA is seeking nominees for the annual IMPACT Award, which honors the ways in which businesses are making an impact in the RVA Region economy and community and on their employees.
Nominees must be a for-profit, privately-held business located within ChamberRVA's regional footprint: the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan; the City of Richmond; and the Town of Ashland. > Read more.
Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer announces the sale of the former Friendly’s restaurant property located at 5220 Brook Road in Henrico County. Brook Road V, LLC purchased the 3,521-square-foot former restaurant property situated on 0.92 acres from O Ice, LLC for $775,000 as an investment. Bruce Bigger of Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer handled the sale negotiations on behalf of the seller. > 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.
CAT Theatre and When There’s A Will director Ann Davis recently announced the cast for the dark comedy which will be performed May 26 through June 3.
The play centers around a family gathering commanded by the matriarch, Dolores, to address their unhappiness with Grandmother’s hold on the clan’s inheritance and her unreasonable demands on her family.
Pat Walker will play the part of Dolores Whitmore, with Graham and Florine Whitmore played by Brent Deekens and Brandy Samberg, respectively. > Read more.
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CalendarThe 33rd annual Lebanese Food Festival, hosted by St. Anthony’s Maronite Catholic Church, will be held on the church grounds next to Innsbrook at 4611 Sadler Rd. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 19-20 and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 21. There will be food, desserts and beverages, as well as live Lebanese music and traditional Lebanese folk dances. Admission and parking are free. Shuttle and offsite parking available at Markel Inc., 4521 Highwoods Pkwy. No pets. Rain or shine. For details, visit http://www.StAnthonyMaroniteChurch.org. Full text