I had several goals for this trip to Washington County, and one of them was to visit the Spruill Farm Conservation Project, then write about it for my Plein Air column at www.terrain.org. I was able to visit with owner Jack Spruill twice during my brief stay in the county.
The first visit began with Jack telling me about his connection to the land, as we sat under a cool shade tree at nine in the morning, drinking coffee and eating meaty Coinjock Creek Farm cantaloupe. I quickly learned how that tree, and the chairs and benches beneath it, serves as a gathering place for a cadre of talented and like-minded friends of the project.
The Friends share Jack’s vision for the 110-acre farm, which abuts the Albemarle Sound with 1,600 feet of undeveloped shoreline, and has been in his family for 100 years. And while the farm currently supports a variety of activities – a community garden, bee-keeping, fig-growing – its ultimate incarnation would be as a beautiful piece of land donated for perpetual conservation and some combination of low-impact public access, organic or sustainable farming, environmental research and education programs.
The public access issue is especially important to Jack, who is quick to note that there are only two places on the Albemarle – the world’s largest freshwater sound – where direct public access exists, even though there are nine counties that have direct frontage.
By providing low-impact public access, the Spruill Farm of the future might accommodate a kayak and canoe launch, enclosed swimming area, benches, picnic tables and a pier for crabbing, fishing and nature activities. It would make access to the Sound available to local children who have never waded in its waters.
One of the Friends – Jack’s cousin, Bob Spruill -- offered to drive me down to the water before I left. We joined his wife, Georgia, and two grandchildren, traveling along the eastern edge of the planted fields to descend to the shoreline.
Like the kids, I waded in the clear, cool water where generations of Spruills and their friends had waded. Before the Spruills, there had been Chessons, descended from one of my maternal lines. But the tree line showed that where I now waded had once been swamp or solid land, not sound.
In spite of bulkheads and good intentions, shorelines and farms morph, disappear, sprout condos. Jack Spruill intends to protect his family’s farm with a conservation vision that has a lot of supporters.