By CHARLOTTE FERRELL SMITH
LEON (AP) —
This summer’s wet weather has taken a toll on the gardens at Thankful Valley Farms in the scenic landscape of Mason County.
“Everything rotted because of the rain,” Sherrie Taylor said. “The zucchini and squash rotted at the root.”
Her husband, David Taylor, estimates the family has lost $25,000 in production this year.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and corn all suffered in the wake of rain and overflowing creeks. Some vegetables were destroyed while others did not grow to their full potential. Deer ate the beans.
All is not lost. Seven varieties of hot peppers are flourishing, the potatoes are doing well, and the animals are healthy.
Those running this family farm know how to focus on the positive. They have overcome greater hardships and fought bigger battles.
“There are four generations living here,” said Sherrie, who added that everyone works the farm according to his or her abilities.
Sherrie, 50, and David, 43, both previously married, have seven children and eight grandchildren between them. They were living on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C., when they met and fell in love.
She had a son and was caring for three special needs children. He had a daughter.
They married in October 2005. On Dec. 5, 2010, they lost everything they had in a fire that destroyed their home and every Christmas gift.
As they tearfully sat in their van feeling defeated an empty egg carton popped open with these words inside the lid: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Leaning on their faith, they set out to piece their lives back together.
“I take pride in being able to provide for my family,” David said. He took his ID and headed to the Salvation Army in quest of immediate assistance.
Then they decided to completely reconstruct their lives and go into farming. David grew up on a farm in South Carolina and Sherrie on a farm in Lincoln County. After pricing land in the South, they decided to look in the Mountain State where they found affordable acreage and a fellow willing to offer owner financing. When David stood in the midst of a secluded area and realized he had no cell phone service, he knew he wanted the land.
They moved to West Virginia on Dec. 4, 2011.
“We looked like the Clampetts moving here,” he said, referring to the characters from the 1960s show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” “We had our big family van, the largest U-haul you could get and a popup camper.”
She left behind her job as a parts and service director for a car dealership and he left his position as a network engineer for the Department of Energy.
She now works the farm and home schools the children. Aside from long hours on the farm, he also works in Parkersburg, where he does system assessments for the Department of Treasury.
There are nine family members living on the farm.
Sherrie’s son, Chris Putnam, 21, does the heavy lifting. He lives there with his wife Harley and their 1-year-old daughter Anna-Lynn.
The Taylors adopted the three sisters Sherrie had in her custody when they met. Kaitlyn, 15, Hannah, 13, and Jessica, 10, all work on the farm. The oldest has Asperger’s Syndrome, the middle is autistic and the youngest has cerebral palsy. Sherrie said the girls knew that moving to the farm is a way for them to learn independence while home schooling has helped them achieve more than experts anticipated.
Meanwhile, Sherrie’s mother, Anna Barrett, who turns 71 on Sept. 31, helps gather vegetables and can them along with other chores that need done.
Their oldest children live elsewhere, including Sherrie’s son, Joey Miller, 32, her daughter, Amanda McElveen, 30, and David’s daughter, Rebecca Taylor, 21.
The Taylors say they never would have made it this far without the help of good neighbors who have been supportive and loaned equipment. They name Betty Hill, Elmer Miller, C.L. Keefer, and Teresa Pyatt and her late husband, Charlie Pyatt, who died two months ago.
Officials from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture have also offered expertise.
The gardens did better last year in dry weather than this year with all the rain. A grant has been secured through the Department of Natural Resources for a greenhouse to grow high-tunnel tomatoes.
The family sells hay, eggs, chicken, pork and hopes to add beef next year. They also sell animals. They have a variety of chickens and rabbits as well as goats, pigs, ducks, and turkeys. A pot bellied pig and an alpaca are among rescued critters.
They participate with other farms in the Ittle Bitty Mobile Market that travels to various areas with meat, eggs, vegetable, and berries. Participating farms include Thankful Valley, Ittle Bitty, Shooting Star, Shady Oaks and Bradley.
“We have about 50 acres and five gardens,” Sherrie said. “Next year we’ll have seven gardens. We till the gardens by hand.”
The family has applied for grants for needed farm equipment.
Sherrie figures love, determination, hard work, family ties, faith, and good neighbors are a good combination for success. Among her greatest blessings, she counts the support and love of her husband.
For more information about Thankful Valley Farms and Hatchery, go to thankfulvalleyfarms.com, email thankfulvalley(at)yahoo.com or call 304-458-2113.
Charlotte Ferrell Smith writes for the Charleston Daily Mail.