Just as Scott County marks its Bi-Centennial, so does the Fugate Family Farm in Rye Cove. To commemorate this historical event, the Fugate Farm will be the site of a day-long celebration on Sat., June 7, featuring state dignitaries, bands, food, hayrides and much more, explained Charles Fugate.
The Fugate family arrived in the United States in the early 1800s, and were believed to have been disgruntled French Huguenots seeking a better life in America. According to Charles, the early history of the Fugate family is a little fuzzy.
“We don’t know exactly how long they stayed on the coast but, about 225 years ago, the Fugate family moved into the Lebanon, Virginia area.” The Fugate family in Lebanon had several boys and as they began to grow up, they headed separate ways with one becoming the first Governor of Tennessee.
Others purchased property around the Lebanon and Abingdon area, with one son becoming the first person to purchase property in Scott County. Around 1814 Colbert Fugate, Jr. purchased the 500 plus acres in Rye Cove that has remained in the Fugate family for eight generations now. Throughout eight generations, the property has remained a working farm—at times more than others.
“Farms used to be self-sufficient,” Charles explained. “Every farm had an orchard, pig pen, milk cow, berry patches, they raised corn or feed, had a chicken house and a dairy. Most farms had those basic necessities and might have a sheep or two. Tobacco was the cash crop. You sold eggs and homemade items like jams, jellies, bread—anything you could sell. It was not a luxurious living. It was more status quo. It was a trade-off. You just existed.”
Both Charles, and his brother, J.E. were born on the family farm. Their father, James Edwin, was a State Trooper, and the family moved to Big Stone Gap when Charles was six. Neither Charles nor J.E. came back to the family farm until their later years. J.E. went to college and had a career in education, while Charles became a businessman eventually retiring from Westmoreland Coal.
Over the many years of semi-neglect, the Fugate family farm became overgrown with cedars. It was still farmed, mainly for tobacco, and it took Charles a good 20 years to get the property cleaned up.
“Twenty years ago, you could not see the fields, and my Daddy told me, ‘Son, you’ll never be able to clean it all up.’” That was long before the Fugates had track loaders that allowed a farmer to push and shove things around.
“I had trees burning so high that folks would tell me coming back from Big Stone Gap through the wildcat, you could see a glow,” Charles laughed. “I just wish my daddy could see the farm now.”
And all of that hard work has paid off for Charles. In 2012, he was named the Virginia Forage Producer of the Year. (He was nominated by his daughter, Christy Smith, an agronomist and certified nutrient management planner in Cape Charles, Va.)
Along with the full-grown cedars of 20 years ago, the soil around Rye Cove is not easy to work. The Karst soils and rolling hills present special challenges to a farm operation. Then there is the limestone and clay soils. Fugate uses about 350 acres for pastureland and the remaining 130 acres for hay.
He uses a practical yet intense and diverse forage and grazing system to keep the farm profitable. Today the Fugate Farm raises cattle, the majority of which are either Angus and/or Angus crossed with Charolais and Hereford.
Although both brothers live on the farm, Charles is the farmer. And he is a man with little time to spare.
He gets up early to drive the school bus, then comes back and does his chores, picks the kids up, and then comes back and works until dark on the farm.
“I enjoy 90 percent of what I do. Ten percent I don’t enjoy,” he explained. “I didn’t enjoy this last winter when it was so cold you hurt. There is a difference in ‘ooh, it feels uncomfortable, and it’s so cold that your hands and feet hurt. It’s painful.’”
Charles is quick to point out that the June 7th celebration is not about him or his family. “It’s about the people who stayed with it…who were willing to bear the burden with a modest lifestyle and worked hard and conscientiously.
“I feel good that I provide a product that people need. And I feel good when I look at these fields and, where I used to see bare spots that were non-productive that are now lush green and it is good to know I had a hand in doing that.” Plans for the 200 Century farm celebration have not been firmly cast in stone.
The farm is located on Brick Church Road in Rye Cove and makes a lovely Sunday drive. You can see the century’s-old stone fences, the beautiful original homestead, a former slave cabin, and just enjoy the landscape in this part of Scott County.
The official state Commendation designating the Fugate Farm an official 200-year-old farm arrived in the mail this week. A plaque commemorating the achievement will arrive later and will replace the current Century Farm designation.
(Editor’s Note: There are 16 designated Century Farms in Scott County; Fugate Farms is the only recognized 200 year farm in the county. The state of Virginia has 1,291 recognized Century Farms.)