Leaving a Better World
As you cruise down Fleming Rd. outside the town of New Church, Va., you may notice the houses and fields fade to trees as you look east. Just past the church its steeple as tall as the pines nestled around it, beautiful mature woods take over casting dappled light along the road. Roll down your windows, and you’ll hear the birds calling to one another from the branches.
The woods surround farmland that once produced strawberries and was home to cattle. The Fleming family has owned the farm for 100 years, passing through four generations. Now corn, potatoes, and soybeans cover the fields. But it’s still a place full of surprises and teeming with life like the eerie call of the owl at night and cheerful chirping of the Yellow-throated warbler in the morning.
From the road you wouldn’t know there’s a pristine creek meandering through the trees to a stretch of sandy beach on the Chincoteague Bay. Ducks visiting in the winter find a place to rest and eat here. And among the oak trees, fox raise their young.
Love of a Lifetime
After a lifetime of living on Sinnickson Farm, including nearly 40 years with his wife, Maryellen, Mr. Fleming can envision all of this from his room 30 miles south at the Hermitage, a senior living community on the Shore.
“Growing up on the farm, there was never a time when there was nothing to do. But I loved wandering the woods. I watched the woods grow up, each tree from a seed to maturity and then some inevitably aging as time took its toll. To me, they are family,” recalled Mr. Fleming.
With more houses and small residential lots popping up around Sinnickson, Mr. Fleming was concerned if something happened to him the farm would be divided and sold. He felt the need to take action. “I wanted it to remain in its present, natural state, as a farm, a place for wildlife, and a place where streams run clear,” added Mr. Fleming.
Mr. Fleming sits quietly, pondering this for a minute, before continuing, “As you may be able to discern, I’m not as agile as I once was. Now, I mostly spend my days here,” gesturing from his arm chair to the apartment he now calls home. Mrs. Fleming is close by in another wing of the Hermitage. “My wife has Alzheimer’s and can no longer fend for herself. It is my duty to ensure she is protected and taken care of. It’s a labor of love.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this,” Mr. Fleming continued, “I have no direct heirs to inherit the property. Like the woods, I’m aging, and I wanted to ensure the land is taken care of too.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I have no direct heirs to inherit the property. Like the woods, I’m aging, and I wanted to ensure the land is taken care of too.” - Mr. Fleming, easement donor
More than an Award, a Way of Life
So Mr. Fleming conserved his land with a conservation easement that ensures Sinnickson Farm is a place for agriculture, forestry, wildlife, education, and recreation for future generations.
The farm will go on. It will pass to new hands and the conservation easement will remain intact, conserving a special place and protecting vital resources, including the water quality of the Chincoteague Bay.
“At Sinnickson Farm, the water is clean,” Mr. Fleming explained, and then added, “I gave the farm my life, and it to me; may it always be cherished now that it’s conserved.” He pointed to a plaque on the wall, “I received the Outstanding Forest Steward Award in 2016 from the Virginia Department of Forestry. For once in my life I was speechless.” The award says, “Leave a better world than you found to those who will follow.”
Smiling, Mr. Fleming adds, “We all, through the way we live, leave a legacy, not confined to our material wealth. Because you chose this path, things are better for you having trod this way. For me, it was conserving the farm.”