Wadmalaw Island farmer Pete Ambrose is relieved that former race car driver Ernie Irvan and his wife, Kim, dropped a lawsuit that he says could have put him out of business.
But he's not sure the matter is done.
The Irvans, who live next door to the Ambrose Family Farm, filed a civil suit last month against Ambrose and his business, Rockland Avenue LLC. Ambrose owns and operates a 130-acre "community supported agriculture" farm, known as a CSA. That's a type of farm where people purchase a "share" at the start of a growing season and then pick up a supply of fruits and vegetables each week.
Kim Irvan said Friday that she and her husband, a Daytona 500 winner, dropped the lawsuit, but they don't want to comment on the matter until next week.
The lawsuit would have left it up to a judge to decide whether Ambrose's farm violated the covenants of the Selkirk Property Owners Association, of which Ambrose and the Irvans are members.
The association's covenants, which govern the use of the land, prohibit retail and commercial activities but allow generally accepted farming practices. The Irvans' position is that having people pick up shares at the farm, and running a U-pick berry business in April and May are commercial activities; Ambrose's position is that they are basic farm practices.
"Farmers don't get money from the tooth fairy," Ambrose said. "They have to sell to somebody." And he said that he thinks the equestrian activities in which the Irvans engage also could be considered commercial activities.
Ambrose also said that each week only about 60 customers pick up their produce at the farm. Most pick up at drop-off sites throughout the area.
The farm gets busy when people come out to pick berries in the spring, he said. But the U-pick business makes up 30 percent of his income. If he weren't able to run it, his business would go under, he said.
Ambrose said he still thinks some members of the association want to shut him down because his fruit and vegetable farm is inconsistent with some of the high-end equestrian enterprises in Selkirk. "They want an elite equestrian community," he said.
Kim Irvan said earlier this month that she and her husband don't have any problem with Ambrose growing fruit and vegetables next door to their home and equestrian club. But they are tired of people driving down the road to his farm that runs along the edge of their 49 acres to pick up their produce. And they've had enough of his U-pick berry operation, which has brought in as many as 60 cars in an hour. The cars are noisy and stir up dust, and Ambrose's customers have even wandered onto her land to pet her horses, she said.
Ernie Irvan is former a NASCAR driver with 15 career Winston Cup victories who may be best known for a terrible crash at Michigan Speedway. He suffered a serious head injury in the 1994 wreck but later recovered and returned to racing.
Ambrose said some members of the association have been trying for a long time to restrict his business. They've called him a "carnival farmer," Ambrose said. And he's been told by some neighbors that another neighbor has threatened to put a Ferris wheel on his property in retaliation.
His opponents in the association tried to amend the covenants to restrict his business activities, he said, but they didn't garner enough votes to do it.
Association President Steve Kuemmerle did not return a call for comment Friday.
The Irvans filed their lawsuit after the amendment was shot down, Ambrose said.
"I would love to work something out (with the neighbors)," he said, "but what they wanted wasn't feasible."
The bright spot in all of this for Ambrose is the outpouring of community support for his family and his farm. The morning that news of the lawsuit broke in the media, he said, so many people called him to offer support that his cell phone battery went dead. And one of his customers set up a "Save the Ambrose Farm" page on Facebook earlier this week, he said. So far, it has more than 3,300 members.
"It's humbling," Ambrose said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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