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Westmoreland family growing organic produce business
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BY EMILY BATTLE
Organic produce has gained recognition and space on grocery store shelves in recent years, but for Lawrence and Becky Latane it's not something trendy.
It's the way they've always grown things at their home on Blenheim Farm, a 400-acre Westmoreland County farm whose ties to the Latane family go back to the 1700s. Lawrence Latane splits the property with his sister.
What has changed is whom they're growing for.
Gardening has been part of the Latanes' lives throughout their 25-year marriage. Becky said Lawrence came to their June wedding at George Washington's Birthplace straight from hoeing cantaloupes.
At that time, the Latanes were producing fruits and vegetables only for themselves. Every year, they'd pull a little more land into their garden.
When Lawrence Latane looks out today at the 15 acres of certified organic farmland he and Becky are growing produce on--plus the 5 additional acres that are in transition toward becoming certified--he calls it "a gardening hobby that got out of control."
The couple, whose business is called Blenheim Organic Gardens, began selling their produce in 1999, through a friend who had experience selling to restaurants in Washington.
Early on, the Latanes sold to Good Eats Cafe in Kinsale and Jake and Mike's in Fredericksburg.
Then one day somebody asked if they'd be interested in selling at the Irvington farmers market, which at the time happened only once a month.
They started to get the hang of regular marketing right around the time they got their USDA organic certification, in July 2000.
Two years later, the Latanes got a call from Libbey Oliver, who was putting together a farmers market in Williamsburg.
Although it's a two-hour early morning drive from their home every Saturday, they've been selling for seven years at that market, where Blenheim is now one of two organic produce vendors.
"We ran into them just as they were getting going," Oliver said. "We've been very fortunate in having them. They are well-respected at our market."
In the meantime, Becky worked with her sister to set up a community-supported-agriculture group, where individuals pay a set amount at the beginning of the season for a "share" of the farm's produce for the year.