Family farms

Published 12:53 pm Monday, August 26, 2019

In life, we often are confronted with problems that were not foreseen. The family farm, all over the country, often is the perfect example. Over the years some members of a family will move away from the farm and make their homes and their lives in other areas; other brothers or sisters remain on the farm assisting in the operation with the parents. Eventually, upon the death or disability of the parents, those siblings that have remained continue to operate the farm. Sometimes things go sideways in the process. If not the first generation maybe the second or third. When there is no official recording of the intent of the farm owner, it can become a very difficult situation.

Sometimes, one heir, whether the one on the farm or the ones who have moved away, will decide that the farm or parts of the farm are more valuable for development or some other use. In cases such as this, the question is who should make such a decision. In some cases, the parents wanted the children who remained and continued the farm operation to but never wrote it into their will or transferred it before their deaths. Other times, family members are satisfied with not being connected to the farm until they have fallen into hard times. This creates a riff among family members.

Often this type situation leads to the sale of the land thus removing that property from agriculture, even when one family member wants to continue as a farmer. This is bad for that individual as well as the farming community. Over the years, we have seen this happen way too often. In some situations, the grandchildren may have never even seen the land, but they have the power to force the sale in order to receive “their” share.

Over the course of the last several years, I have heard tales and seen stories of this happening. That is why I have agreed to work with a consortium of groups that want to provide mediation and advise those who might need help to bring together the parties involved. That coalition is made up of a couple of dozen organizations that operate under the name, Virginia’s United Land Trusts (VaULT). I was approached by Black Family Land Trust, one of the VaULT members, because there are several situations in counties in Southern Virginia. Other members are organizations such as American Battlefield Trust and the Ever Green Team here in our region.

The Black Family Land Trust is based in Durham, North Carolina; however, the Executive Director lives in Mecklenburg County. The goal for them and each of the other member organizations is to work with families and individuals to try to work with the parties involved to show a clear path in which they might be able to agree upon, other than selling it or dividing into such small pieces of land that no one wins. In the 2020 session, we hope to pass legislation in Virginia that mirrors what has been passed in South Carolina and Texas. Reports from those states have been positive.


It was announced last week that the corporate owners of the Peebles stores will rename the stores in 2020 after they have remodeled and remerchandised the remaining stores. After this, the chain that had grown to 239 stores will effectively be no more. (The announcement said all but three would be renamed).

This was sad news for this region just as it was sad when the Leggett’s name was replaced by the name Belk’s. The Leggett family and the Peeble’s family offered so much to our region. Those families gave back to so many communities in which they were founded — Lawrenceville, South Boston, Danville and Lynchburg — as well as the many towns in which they operated.

All things change over time. We see this with both the retail business as well as farming and related businesses. That is part of life, however, we must do all we can to protect those businesses that serve our communities. Locally owned and operated businesses give back to the communities in which we live in so many ways.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.