Jerry and Helen Kirk run the kind of roadside produce stand that snares drivers with its brilliant pyramids of fat, red tomatoes, mounds of midnight-blue plums and tiger-striped green watermelons.
Thursday they made their weekly trip to Richmond to restock. When they returned to their stand, which has operated at the side of Rte. 50 just outside this Fauquier County village for more than 20 years, they were stunned.
Dump trucks and earth-moving machinery from the state highway department had erected a three-foot-high dirt wall on the highway's shoulder, stretching the 50-yard length of the stand's frontage. A small gap remained at the far end of the property, for cars to get in and out.
To the Kirks, the impact of the new embankment was obvious: Easy access to their produce stand was gone, as was a measure of visibility.
"It'll cut our business to nothing," said Helen Kirk, 51, surveying the 18-wheelers roaring past, heading west to Winchester, West Virginia and Ohio. Her voice was tight.
"We'll have to move, definitely," said Jerry Kirk, 58. "It's just killed us, taken our livelihood away from us. I'm worried to death."
A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation said the wall was built in front of the Kirks' produce stand as a traffic safety measure. The spokesman said the highway department received complaints about cars pulling on and off Rte. 50 at the roadside stand.
The Kirks maintain that they have never seen an accident on the westbound side of the highway in front of their stand, and they are seeking a court injunction to have the wall removed.
State police confirmed that while there have been a number of accidents on the other side of the highway, where Rte. 17 joins it from the south, traffic safety has not been a problem on the Kirks' side of the road.
Don Askew, resident engineer for the state highway department, said he knew of no mishaps caused by the previously open access to the produce stand, but he said officials were concerned about "the potential for accidents."
He said the wall was built in part because "the stand keeps growing and things had gotten completely out of hand." The Kirks have no permit from the highway department and no site plan from the county for the property, he said.
By noon Thursday, the Kirks had made only four sales, about a third of their usual volume. They pointed out that truckers, who account for much of their business, are unable to maneuver their rigs through the gap in the dirt wall.
Thursday night, anticipating the wall's effect on their business, the Kirks took nearly 100 fresh cantaloupes down the road to Paris and gave them away. And they fed watermelons to the highway crew that built the wall in front of their stand.
"It's better to give it away to people than feed it to somebody's hogs," said Jerry Kirk.
With their 26-year-old son Bobby, the Kirks have rented and operated the produce stand for three years. Before them, the owner of the property, now ill, ran the stand for more than 17 years, they said.
The Kirks, who live about two miles from their stand in Clarke County, say they have made themselves welcome to local farmers, businesses and residents, trading with them, selling wholesale to country groceries and inns, and keeping retail prices low.
"Smell this ham," said Jerry Kirk, slapping a powerfully smoky flank that hung from a post. "That's $1.98 a pound -- the best price in the Valley. We've built up a nice following here. People come from Middleburg, Upperville, Warrenton to get here."
The Kirks say they make about $200 a week from the stand, their principal source of income. They open in mid-April and close just before Christmas, working from 8:30 a.m. until sundown.
"The work is hard enough," said Helen Kirk. "We put in long hours. Then to have to fight to stay . . . . "
Asked if the wall was there to stay, Askew was philosophical. "Nothing is permanent in this life," he said