By Jean A. Flanagan
An historic farm in Wardensville is being revitalized to give local students an opportunity that just might keep them in Hardy County.
Known as the Frye Farm, located at the intersection of State Routes 259 and 55, the nearly 100-acre tract was recently purchased by a private limited liability corporation, Trout Run WV, LLC.
At the same time, Paul Yandura and his partner, Donald Hitchcock, formed a nonprofit organization called Farms Work Wonders. “We want to make organic agriculture a viable career path for young people here in Hardy County,” Yandura said.
Kids working on a farm is as old as farming itself. Teaching kids to market and sell the produce grown on the farm is a new direction.[private]
Farms Work Wonders received a substantial grant from JDL Foundation in Florida to get the farm/market up and running.
“Their main focus is youth empowerment,” said Yandura of the JDL Foundation. “They’ve historically worked with urban kids, but wanted to branch out to rural areas.”
“We hope to be self-sufficient in two to three years,” Hitchcock said.
“We want to create a garden and a farmer’s market where the young people can learn marketing, budgeting, retail sales, and customer service skills,” Yandura said. “They already know how to grow stuff. We want to teach them how to take it to the next level.”
An on-line solicitation for paid interns resulted in 16 applicants. “We initially wanted to hire between five and seven students,” Hitchcock said. “But since we had such a great response, we hired 11. Most of them said this was their first job interview.”
Initially the garden will consist of about two acres. A greenhouse is already under construction. There will be three 50 x 100 gardens and later a high tunnel.
Two local adults were hired to manage the farm and oversee the retail operation.
Cindy Jenks is the farm director and Emma Kiser is the retail director.
Jenks has lived in Wardensville all her life and has a working farm.
“Our farm is pretty much self sufficient,” Jenks said. “We have horses, pigs and chickens. We sell eggs. I’ve had a 50 x 100 foot garden for years.”
Jenks said the Wardensville Market farm will have the usual produce, at first, things like lettuce, spinach and kale, and later beans, carrots, cauliflower, beets to name a few. There will also be a variety of produce not usually seen in farmer’s markets.
“We’ve bought seeds for land cress, eggplant, endive and okra,” Jenks said. “One of our students is interested in growing herbs for tea, so we’ll try it and see how it goes. We want to grow and sell other herbs as well.
“We’ve bought a variety of heirloom, organic and a few hybrid seeds. We want to promote the heirloom varieties.”
“Our goal is to become certified organic,” Hitchcock said. “But before that happens, we’ll use organic techniques.”
In the meantime, the farmhouse is being renovated to serve as an office. Outbuildings are being renovated to serve as the market space and equipment storage.
“Paul and Donald have really transformed the house and farm into what it should be,” said Donna Lafollette Leroy.
Leroy grew up on the farm, which has been in her family from mid-1800s.
“It was known as the H.W. Frye Homeplace,” she said. “In 1893, Henry W. Frye gave 221 acres to his son John.”
According to the deeds Leroy uncovered while cleaning the house for sale, John transferred the property to his three children, Marshall, Homer and Laura.
In 1909, Homer and Marshall bought Laura’s share and split the property into two pieces “by mutual agreement,” the deed said.
“Marshall got 98 acres, which is this piece,” Leroy said. “He died in 1917 and deeded it to his children, Laura, Paul, John and Opal. Paul was my grandfather. He and his wife, Elsie had my mother, Violet and she married Melvin. Most people called him Bill Lafollette.”
Leroy said she was totally impressed with Yandura and Hitchcock and was excited to sell the property with such a bright future.
“When they told me they wanted to create a farmer’s market and organic farm, I was just blown away,” she said. “I researched them and discovered what they’ve done, or tried to do, in Wardensville. I remember the old Southern States store and when I saw what they did with that, I knew these guys know what they’re doing and how to get things done.
“When they talked about a youth program with organic farming and a farm to table market, I was sold. I wanted the farm to go to someone who would improve Wardensville.”
Leroy said she was impressed with what Yandura and Hitchcock have accomplished in just a few short months. “My husband and I tried to clean up the property, but it was just too much for us,” she said.
The property line on the north and west side of the farm is the Cacapon River. The east side is bounded by State Route 259.
“We’ve done a lot of work in cleaning up the property,” Yandura said. “We’ve collected 136 tires and counting. We’ve found old wood and wire and other junk. In a couple of weeks, we will organize a cleanup day along the river.”
In addition to the grant from JDL Foundation, Farms Work Wonders has received funding from the Hardy County Community Foundation and the West Virginia University Small Farms Institute.
“We’ve installed cameras on the second floor of the house,” Yandura said. “Once the website is up and running, you’ll be able to go online and see people working.”
“I think it’s exciting to have the students working here,” Hitchcock said. “Some will gravitate to the farming aspect, while others will be better at the market part.”
The seeds have been planted and orientation for the students took place last Saturday. The market is set to open June 1.
“They (Yandura and Hitchcock) have such a respect for the land and they’re honest and smart and have a lot of energy,” Leroy said. “They are a Godsend to Wardensville.”
Check the websites wardensvillegardenmarket.com and wardensvillegardenmarket.org for updates on the progress of the farm.[/private]