The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

November 2, 2010

Golf course to become organic farm

COOL RIDGE — Call it the story of the prodigal farm: Stephanie and James Lemon are plowing up their family’s Lakeview Golf Course in Cool Ridge to convert it back to a farm like Stephanie’s great-grandfather raised more than 60 years ago.

On the gently rolling 110 acres, the Lemons have already dug up part of the once-manicured green to plant a full array of fruit trees and shrubs, as well as garlic, asparagus and strawberries, to overwinter.

The Lemons plan to begin the farm full-force this coming season, raising their crops with as few chemicals as possible.

“We want to try to do everything we can organic,” James said.

Stephanie explained that for years she had held onto the idea of restoring the land to its farming heritage.

“Me and Dad used to sit on the porch and say, ‘Boy, that would be pretty as a farm, wouldn’t it?’” she said.

The land itself has seen a variety of changes. A rock company bought the property from Stephanie Lemon’s great-grandfather in the 1950s to quarry it for rock to build the turnpike, creating a 7-acre lake that now provides the farm with water through a pump system.

Stephanie’s grandfather bought the land back and, at the advice of friends, transformed it into Lakeview Golf Course in the early 1960s. The Lemons ran the golf course as a family business, with Stephanie and James managing it the last 11 years.

Business began to slow, Stephanie said, especially because more and more golfers didn’t want to walk the course and the Lemons didn’t provide carts.

The Lemons’ story reverses the national trend. The United States loses farmland to development at the rate of 1 acre per minute, according to the American Farmland Trust. Yet Stephanie said the vision of a farm kept surfacing. Even while running the golf course, the Lemons already raised a big garden and chickens, and sold produce at the golf course clubhouse.

“One of the golfers was sitting here one day, and he said, ‘What would you do if golfers stopped coming?’ I said, ‘I’ll farm it!’ And that’s what we’re doing,” Stephanie said.

None of the Lemons is mourning the loss of the golf course, according to Stephanie’s mother, Ella Wood.

“It got to where it was going to be an aggravation and a worry,” she said.

After closing the golf course in April, the Lemons began laying detailed plans for their new business, which will be called Lakeview Farm. They aim to sell crops at Allen’s Produce in Beaver, as well as straight off the farm. Years of selling brown eggs to neighbors has already gained them a clientele.

“Most (of the neighbors) tell us that when we get it going, to holler and let them know,” Stephanie said. “People are getting to where they want fresh stuff — local.”

According to the Lemons’ plans, if their plants flourish, the farm will come close to being its own miniature Garden of Eden, with pears, blueberries, grapes, peaches, apples, strawberries, mulberries, and cherries, and a full garden of vegetables, pumpkins and gourds.

The Lemons also hope to add bees and cattle, as well as re-introduce quail to the land.

In the abandoned clubhouse, Stephanie said, she wants to pursue her crafts hobbies — housing a ceramics kiln and possibly a pottery wheel.

The Lemons explain they are committed to raising the farm organically to protect their own health as well as their customers’, and even the soil’s health.

“When we had the golf course, we tried not to use anything chemical,” Stephanie said, describing how originally her father had sprayed chemical fungicide on the grass.

“When Dad died, they said there was something in his lungs. It made you wonder.”

James, who was treated for a tumor over the summer, said his nurse told him not to eat apples raised with chemicals because it could harm his treatment.

“I believe the chemicals are what are hurting the people more. I believe it’s causing a lot of cancer and everything,” James said, adding that the cost of organic fertilizer and pest control was negligible.

“It might be just a little higher, but you use less, so it’ll be cheaper in the long run.”

Much of the fertilizer already comes free since the Lemons compost with their own kitchen scraps and have neighbors who can help supply them with cow manure.

Meanwhile, Stephanie said, she is enjoying the shift from golf course manager to full-time farmer as she prepares the farm for the winter.

“We’re excited,” she said. “Mom can’t get me in here to clean the house because I want to be out there doing something.”

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