Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Last week, Bunny and I took a much needed vacation. Our plans included a road trip through eastern North Carolina to visit coastal Wineries, and then to spend several sun filled days at Garden City Beach. The wine tour was enlightening and fun, however, upon arriving at Garden City, the sky turned grey, the rain started to fall, and I began to whine. Bless Bunny’s heart; I whined the rest of the week.
All too quickly, Monday Morning arrived and back at work, I saw several disrespectful signs directed at the school district’s recent evaluation. Besides thinking that the county does not need another controversy, it occurred to me that apparently I was not the only one whining. However, the difference was that I was honest with my complaints as opposed to the sign crew who presented a negative message, but apparently did not want to take responsibility. It’s interesting that citizens can be angry, zealous, and obsessive about an issue, but do not have the courage to be accountable. Such was the case a few years ago when I received a letter from an irate mother complaining about a beauty contest in Hemingway. The message criticized the judges, the event, the sponsors, other contestants; basically everything about the contest. It was obvious her daughter did not win. After reading the letter, I politely placed it in the trash because there was no name or signature. Just like the school district signs; letters, flyers, or any other communications without a name simply have no merit.
Enough pessimistic palaver let me share an inspiring story about Lu Mil Vineyard’s success and southern agri-tourism. Lu Mil named for Lucille and Miller Taylor, is located on the site of a third generation family farm. The farm originally grew tobacco, but with the loss of the tobacco program the family was forced to diversify. The Taylor Family being a leader in agriculture equipment development used their farm for years as a testing ground for new equipment ideas. After tobacco, a new chapter in the life of the farm began with growing Muscandine grapes to use in the development of farm machinery for North Carolina’s growing Viticulture Industry. The machinery worked, the grapes grew, and the vineyard was born.
Arriving at the Vineyard, Bunny and I were met by the owner, Mr. Taylor, who enthusiastically shared the family’s story and went on to explain other creative ideas incorporated at the vineyard. Besides making wines, Lu Mil developed a food processing plant to make jams and jellies using their grapes. D’Vine Foods became a reality to produce products with names like “Southern Moonshine Jelly”. In addition, old barns on the farm became antique museums and reception areas. Walking trails, fishing ponds, picnic areas, and camp sites were developed on the farm for visitor’s enjoyment. A tasting room, gift shop, and an entertainment venue with seating for 550 guests were designed. Taylor told us that the Vineyard hosts a wedding most weekends during the summer in addition to family reunions, and parties. As events grew, Lu Mil constructed 6 rental cabins around the vineyard. Now of course, Bunny and I can not confirm this, but we believe some of the original cabins are old bulk tobacco barns that have been renovated. The newest adventure of Lu Mil is the Festival of Lights during the Christmas Season. Mr. Taylor reported that thousands of lights are placed in the Vineyards and last year 20,000 people came to see them. As we were concluding our conversation with Mr. Taylor, he said the following: “The people in this County have always been there for us. We would not be where we are today if the local people did not support our events and business. For instance, we only have 30,000 people in the entire county, and last year we had 20,000 people attend our Festival of Lights. Lu Mil could not make it without help from local residents.” No doubt, the owners of Lu Mil had a vision for success. Instead of whining years ago about the loss of the tobacco program and their old way of life, they reorganized, and moved forward. But, the Taylors also recognize that success would not have been possible without the community’s support.
As I thought about the current school district “negative sign” issue, I considered my friend Dr. Barnes to be similar to Mr. Taylor. Dr. Barnes understood when she came to Williamsburg County that the school system had problems and deficiencies. Being a dedicated educational professional, she understood the challenges, yet was willing to accept the risk. During her tenure, Dr. Barnes has worked tirelessly for the students and has implemented creative measures in an attempt to move the system forward. However, the most important point she has advocated since day one, is that the school system must have the community’s support for permanent progress. Just like the owner of Lu Mil, Dr. Barnes understands that the leadership team can have the most creative ideas, and the best business plan, but success will not come without community backing. It takes time to make fine wines, and it will take time to correct problems that have plagued this school system for years. The whiners, on the other hand, should consider the young people and the example the negative signs are sending. It’s not a constructive message, nor is it an intellectual objective.