In the small northwestern Virginia town of Broadway, high school sweethearts Gary and Ellen Lohr have been farming together since they married in 1965. The two run Gary’s family operation, Valley Pike Farm. But for Gary, a fourth-generation farmer, his lifelong work was pretty much set even before birth.
“I was actually born on the farm,” says Gary Lohr, whose family started farming the same land in the 1880s. “Growing up here, I liked the lifestyle. When Dad got old enough to retire I just took over for him. I’m very proud of it.”
The Lohr legacy is similar to the 1,370-plus operations across the state listed as Virginia Century Farms, those that are at least 100 years old and have been in the same family since their founding. The Commonwealth’s Century Farm program began in 1997, and it has been part of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) ever since.
From One Generation to the Next
“There’s a longstanding commitment these farm families have to agriculture, demonstrated by the generations that have been able to keep it in their families,” says Andy Sorrell, coordinator of the Office of Farmland Preservation. “During the application process, we provide them with information on how to transition their farms to the next generation. We want to give them options, knowing what resources we can provide to help them keep their farm in the family for the next 100 years.”
Sorrell adds, “What runs true through all of the Century Farms is that there’s always a generation member who wants to continue the farm, finding a way to make it work.”
The Lohr family has its sights set on future generations running Valley Pike Farm. Gary and Ellen have two children who help – son Matt, who served as VDACS commissioner from 2010 to 2013, and daughter Faye. Of their eight grandchildren, those who are old enough also pitch in.
The farm grows sweet corn, field corn, barley and soybeans, raises broilers in four poultry houses, and has a cattle and calf operation. In addition, the family hopes to restart a U-pick pumpkin patch with corn mazes and a play area it had once before.
Strength of Family
Like the Lohrs, the French family of Sunny Side Farms in Cumberland is designated as a Virginia Century Farm, established in 1870. Its longevity and potential to continue for generations is bolstered by the strength of its family. Hugh French and his wife, Anita, own the farm.
“I’ve been here all my life,” Hugh French says. “All four of my boys were born and raised on the farm and grew up working here. Three of them have continued to work on the farm – H.A. Jr., Rob and Neal – as well as 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild who help to make our farm a success.”
The 120-acre farm grows “a little bit of everything,” according to French, including strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, squash and numerous other vegetables. The family sells handpicked vegetables to major grocery chains, works a few farmers’ markets and runs two local fruit stands.
Sunny Side Farms prides itself in the ability to change with the times and survive, no matter the circumstances.
“It has been a rough ride, long hours and at times lots of uncertainty, but as I look out over what we accomplished here, I can’t imagine any other way of life for me and my family,” French says.