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Posted April 19, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

State celebrates the valley's Century Farms

By Sally Voth

BROADWAY - At a Coffmantown Road farm outside Woodstock, Geary Showman is continuing a 250-year-old family tradition.

"I'm the eighth-generation to have it," he said on Friday. "I've always farmed."

That includes during his long tenure with the Shenandoah County Building Department.

Showman's wife Ethel added, "We don't know what's going to happen when we're gone."

He noted, "We have one son, and he's not one bit interested in it."

The Showmans were among dozens of so-called "Century Farm" farmers, those whose farms have been in their family for at least 100 years, who gathered at the Broadway farm of Gary and Ellen Lohr on Friday.

The Valley Conservation Council hosted the get together and lunch to celebrate Virginia Century Farms. The Lohrs are the parents of Matt Lohr, Virginia's commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

VCC Executive Director Faye Cooper said the council wants to recognize all of the century farmers who have "been such great stewards of our valley's farmlands."

The VCC keeps farmers and landowners informed about ways they can preserve their land, she said. More than 130,000 acres in the Shenandoah Valley are in conservation easements, Cooper said.

"VCC this past year has expanded its programming to include a focus on agricultural vitality," she said. "It's all about supporting farmers' bottom line. Because we know that we can save all the land there is to save...but, if farmers can't make a living on that land, then this doesn't work so well."

There are more than 1,200 Century Farms statewide, said Kevin Schmidt, coordinator of the office of farmland preservation at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Agriculture is big business in Virginia, Matt Lohr said. Farmers haven't been afraid to change and adapt, he said.

"Every single one of my ancestors has done things a little bit differently," Lohr said.

State leaders have been heavily promoting Virginia agriculture overseas, while also expanding local foods initiatives, he said. Farmers markets, roadside stands and farm wineries all have increased in the state, according to Lohr.

"In the next 15 years, 70 percent of our farmland in Virginia is expected to change hands," he said. "That's pretty scary when you think about it because there's a lot of other competing demands out there for that farmland."

Because there has been a perception that conservation easements were too restrictive for working farmers, a working lands variant has been established, Lohr said.

Schmidt said the state also has been looking to link young farmers with older farmers who don't have someone to take over agricultural operations.

The Showmans have thought about that option, but the farm may be too small, having shrunk from 454 to 22 acres, Mrs. Showman said.

Kenneth Copp has traced his family history at his Fairview Road farm outside Woodstock back about 160 years, but it may go back much farther. He and his wife, Roulette, have sheep and cattle, and grow hay and corn.

The Copps brought their grandchildren, Cayden, 5, and Cole, 8, to the VCC lunch on Friday.

"We think these little birds right here will be there [on the farm in the future]," Copp said in reference to his grandchildren. "We think it's great having the program, trying to save the land. We're right pleased with owning something that's been in the family a great while."

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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