Lin Dunham on Farmland Protection and Growing Sweet Potatoes in Morgan County

Lin Dunham grew up on his grandfather’s farm about eleven miles south of Berkeley Springs in southern Morgan County, West Virginia.

“I was born and raised here in Morgan County, lived here all my life,” Dunham told the Morgan County USA Podcast. “My grandfather Harry Dawson was a farmer. He had his own sawmill. He had a tomato canning factory.”

Dunham grew up in Morgan County at a time when agriculture was the heartbeat of the county. And over the years, he has stayed involved with conservation and farming in the area.

He is chair of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, sits on Morgan County Farmland Protection Board and is vice president of the Cacapon Resort State Park Foundation. 

“I’ve always loved to farm,” Dunham said. “I worked for the IRS in Martinsburg for 34 years. I went to work there in 1971. I worked shift work. But on my off time, I would be working at the farm.”

“There were a lot of orchards in Morgan County when I was growing up in the sixties in Morgan County. There were still some dairy farms.”

“But that is vanishing. The family farms are diminishing throughout the whole United States. Even when I was pretty young, I didn’t like development. I wanted to see the ground to stay the way it was. That’s kind of what pushed me to get into farmland protection. I helped put together what ended up being the farmland protection program for West Virginia, but it started here in the Eastern Panhandle.”

The Morgan County Farmland Protection Board accepts donations or purchases development rights to farmland in Morgan County. 

According to board administrator Ginger Johnson, to date the board has acquired 17 easements – through donations or purchase – totaling 1,210 acres. Those farmland acres are now off limits to development.

“You are selling the development rights to your farm so that it can never be developed,” Dunham said. 

When we interviewed Dunham on June 9, he was preoccupied with sweet potatoes. He has been growing sweet potatoes for six or seven years now.

“I’m in the process right now of planting sweet potatoes,” Dunham said. “I ordered 3,000, but I’m going to plant only 2,000 because I had several people that wanted me to order a certain variety for them. And it’s good variety. I found that with the sweet potato, the longer you store them after you take it out of the ground, the sweeter they get.” 

Dunham says that you plant the sweet potatoes in early June and harvest them in the middle of September. Each plant produces about three or four good sized potatoes.

Dunham says that after harvesting them, he cures them by putting them under a tarp and letting them heat up for five or six days. He says that makes them sweet. 

Dunham says that he has noticed an upsurge in interest in farming during the pandemic.

“People locally who raise plants have sold out. They had to replant. I always thought that it would be great if individuals had their own gardens – like in the days I was growing up. You are more self-sufficient that way. There was a lot more canning going on and freezing. People are asking – how do you grow this and how do you grow that.” 

“There is a lot to growing gardens – even small sized gardens. It’s not something you just plant and sit back and say – I won’t worry about it until I harvest it. There are these things called weeds. But you can see what you produce. I love to see things grow.”

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