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Panhandle farm wins honor

November 16, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Carla J. Kitchen has sold fruit since she was big enough to bag a half bushel, but too little to hand the bag to the customers.

"We sold on the Baltimore market when I was little," the Berkeley County third-generation orchardist said last week. "You packed everything Saturday night and put it on the truck, ... left Sunday afternoon and you went to the market.

"My granddaddy did the same thing."

These days, Kitchen, 51, is being recognized for doing things differently at Kitchen's Farm, which she has run since 1987.

West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Gus R. Douglass announced last month that Kitchen's orchard and farm operation near Falling Waters was the 2008 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year.

The honor, awarded since 1954, touts conservation planning and practices on farms that protect soil and water.

Kitchen's farm off Kitchens Orchard Road is the second in Berkeley County to be recognized, according to the West Virginia Conservation Agency. Leo C. McIntire was honored in 1960.

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The other state winners in the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District have come from Jefferson County: Warren and Reva Mickey (2004), Robert and Lynne Gruber (1999), Stile & Riggs Inc. (1989) and Irvin King (1984).

Kitchen's operation was credited for having an integrated pest control program; rotational grazing for her Hereford and Angus cross cattle; water conservation efforts, including plans to install drip irrigation for the farm's sweet corn crop; gravel loading pads for erosion control; and state-of-the-art pesticide storage.

"I don't know what it's like not to do this," Kitchen said while giving a tour of the farm that was started by her parents, Bruce W. and Evelyn C. Kitchen, in 1956.

When her father had a stroke in 1983, Kitchen said she and her mother had to take over.

"We had just finished picking apples. We were making cider for the last time and he had a stroke," Kitchen said.

An only child, Kitchen has retained the help of Raymond E. Lemaster Sr. and Robert M. Boarman to continue the family tradition of raising cattle, and growing fruit and vegetables on 573 acres. The land, now surrounded by housing development on three sides, is used to produce a majority of the cattle feed and more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Kitchen has plans to add even more. Pluots, a cross between a plum and an apricot, are on the way.

In addition to selling from her on-site farm market and regular sales to Virginia fruit processors National Fruit Product Co. and Boarman Apple Products Co., Kitchen's Orchard also sold to baby food producers Gerber and Bay Valley Foods for the first time this year.

"You have to have (more strict) records on your pesticide applications for them, and they tell you when they want you to pick the apples because it has to be a certain ripening. ... Sugar content has to be a certain number, that way they add no sugar," Kitchen said.

Kitchen regularly counts insects that are lured to boxes hanging in some of her trees as a method to reduce pesticide use and recently planted a fifth variety of disease-resistant apples.

Eastern Panhandle Conservation specialist Barbara S. Elliott said Kitchen's farm deserved the state-level recognition, especially given the evolution of the region's economy.

"This is the one chance we get to show off the farms to the state, and I believe that the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia is forgotten sometimes, that we are still in agriculture," Elliott said. "People think we are growing houses, not cows.

"And I've enjoyed working with Carla, because she still has the heart and the love of farming."

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