Dec 12 2009

Do You Know Your Charleston: A good thrashing of graciousness

By David Farrow

Why do people spend scads of money to move to a place they consider a unique, idyllic garden spot, and then work with all their might to change it? Why do some people think that some sort of minor celebrity status entitles them to demand that everyone change for their benefit?

Pete Ambrose is an anachronism. In a country that demands designer lettuce, the truck farmer has plied the same earth for 35 years. He is one of only roughly five fruit and vegetable farmers left in the area. He owns and operates what is known as a “Community Supported Agriculture” farm or CSA. Rockland Avenue LLC is a 130-acre farm where people purchase a “share” at the start of a growing season and then pick up their supply of fruits and vegetables each week.

In economic hard times, Ambrose truly lives the life of a farmer. He makes a living from the soil. His “u-pick” business thrives for only two months a year, and if former NASCAR driver Ernie Irvan and his wife, Kim, have their way, Ambrose will have to close up shop because the couple who bought the 49-acre lot next door three years ago feel inconvenienced.

Kim Irvan told the Post and Courier that, “she and her husband didn’t know about the u-pick operation when they moved in three years ago”.

Apparently, Pete Ambrose’s business is causing the Irvans’ pain and suffering and they want it to stop forthwith. In a grotesque scene straight out of “The Amityville Horror”, as many as 60 cars an hour roll down the dirt road in April and May to pick berries. As traumatic as that scenario may seem to the average American, imagine Ernie and Kim’s astonishment and dismay when they found that “The cars are noisy and stir up dust”, and Ambrose’s customers even had the temerity to “wander onto her land to pet her horses”.

The farmer, whose family spans generations in the area, points out the remarkable observation that “farms tend to stir up dust”. He also allows that the Irvans might have had a clue that their part of the shared road might be a tad dusty what with their building, their barn and other buildings being positioned along the dirt road instead of another, less dusty part of their property.

Perhaps not.

Kim Irvan bemoaned their dire straits with the comment, “I don’t want the fighting. It’s tearing us up”. She and her husband, a former NASCAR driver whose career included 15 career Winston Cup victories and a terrible crash at Michigan Speedway in 1994, have decided to take control of the situation the old fashioned American way: they are going to sue.

The civil suit seeks attorneys’ fees as well as a declaration that the covenants of the Selkirk Property Owners Association to which both parties belong are being violated. They prohibit retail and commercial activities but allow “generally accepted” farming practices. Ambrose says selling shares and running a u-pick berry business are basic farm practices. The Irvans maintain that the practices are commercial activities, and an injunction has been filed to stop the on-site commercial activity.

One might honestly inquire whether the Irvans’ horse farm is a non-profit organization.

Pete Ambrose believes he is facing ruin if the Irvans win. “We’d just have to give up,” he said. “I can’t see how we would make it.”

The issue,of course, is the interpretation of the covenant. Be that as it may, no matter how it shakes out legally, the farm was there long before the NASCAR couple. It just goes to prove the old Charleston axiom, “You can’t buy graciousness. It has to be beaten into you at a very young age.”

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