Farms must be owned, worked by same family for at least 100 years
When we heard that nearly 1,400 Virginia farms have been designated “Century Farms” — farms that have been owned and worked by generations of families for 100 years or more — we figured several would be right here in Rappahannock, what with the county’s rich family history.
But that isn’t the case.
“Rappahannock County has three designated Century Farms,” Andy Sorrell, coordinator of the Office of Farmland Preservation for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), informs this newspaper.
To be eligible for the Virginia Century Farm program, a farm must have been owned by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years, be lived on or farmed by a descendant of the original owner, and gross over $2,500 annually from the sale of farm products.
For some Rappahannock families, it should also be pointed out, generational farming came to an abrupt halt after their farms were confiscated by the U.S. government to allow for the formation of Shenandoah National Park.
Sorrell says while all three Rappahannock Century Farms “were at least 100 years when designated [Century Farms], only one officially provided an actual founding date — 1866 — and that was Meadow Grove Farm, designated in 2001 by Mr. and Mrs. James F. Massie and Mr. James R. Massie, Jr.”
Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, as well as the U.S. Historic District and Virginia’s Landmarks Register, the 347-acre Meadow Grove Farm is located in Amissville. Its main house was constructed in four distinct building phases, the oldest being a log structure that pre-dates the farm’s founding.
The main Greek Revival portion of the house was built in 1860. The property also includes a tenant house/slave quarters, schoolhouse and icehouse ruin, among 13 or so buildings.
Sorrell says the county’s two additional Century Farms are both located near Sperryville.
“The other two are Mount Vernon Farm in the [Cliff] Miller family, designated in 1997, and Thornton Hill Farm in the [Bill] Fletcher family, designated in 1999,” he continues.
The roadside entrance sign for the 850-acre Mount Vernon Farm states it was founded in 1827. Amazingly the farm has passed through eight generations of the Miller family, which today remains very active in Rappahannock County. Apart from leasing the historic property for farming, the Millers operate an inn in the farm’s main brick house, as well as a barn party venue. The Miller family today is heavily focused on conservation and preserving the land for future generations.
The Thornton Hill Farm operates in the beef cattle business, as well as conservation and preservation, James William “Bill” Fletcher III said this past weekend.
Fletcher, whose family has been in Rappahannock since about 1735, spoke earlier about the importance of maintaining a “delicate balance between farmers and commercial interests.”
“Without the farms you would not have the beauty that entices people to come to Rappahannock — the diamond of Virginia or the Switzerland of America — as Eugene McCarthy used to call it,” Fletcher noted.
But, he added, farmers “have to be given more latitude for events and other semi-commercial ideas because if the economy keeps going like it is, there will be no farms or farmers in 20 years.”
As for some other fun facts surrounding the Century Farms program, which was established in 1997:
Ninety-two of the state’s 95 counties have Century Farms within their borders. Southampton County, which borders North Carolina between Emporia and Franklin, has the highest number at 90.
Six independent cities have Century Farms, the most (24) being in Suffolk.
Virginia’s oldest designated Century Farm is Summer Hill Farm in Hanover County, just north or Richmond. Amazingly, the Newton/Page families have owned and worked the farm since 1672.
More than 20 of the Century Farms are designated as over 250 years old.
In recognition of their designation as Virginia Century Farms, families receive, among other perks, aluminum signs with the Virginia Century Farm logo for outdoor display.