Kenton Abrams checks the trees at his nursery in Trimble County. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin)
Kenton Abrams checks the trees at his nursery in Trimble County. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin)
Farming has been a way of life for generations of families in Trimble County, Ky., but one newcomer is changing the landscape — a few acres at a time — between Milton and Bedford.

Kenton Abrams, 33, of Crestwood, owner of Abrams Nursery in the 8600 block of U.S. 421 North, started his operation when he bought 76 acres of land from Steven and Grace Smith in 2007.

“Everybody here knows it as the Brown farm,” he said, adding that it once was owned by Wayne and Sally Brown.

“Ground in Oldham County is expensive,” he said. “I was looking for good dirt that was relatively flat” and, of course, affordable. Trimble County, he said, filled the bill.

Since 2007, he has acquired nearly 100 additional acres — most of them across the highway, such as the 42-acre Byrd farm (previously owned by Velma Webster) or adjacent to the original 76 acres. On Sept. 29, he closed on an additional 13 acres just south of the Byrd farm and he’s looking to buy more.

“Trimble County land doesn’t go on the market,” he said. Rather, he’s found the best way to buy land is by asking around or bringing it up in conversation with local residents.

But there are advantages, including proximity to markets in Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, as well as access to Milton city’s water supply, which helps keep his crops watered during periods of low rainfall and drought.

The 17 acres he still owns in Oldham County serve as his sales yard, where the plants harvested in Trimble are transferred before being picked up by or delivered to his wholesale customers.

While his best customer is his father’s company, Sandy Abrams Landscaping in Crestwood, Abrams Nursery also sells wholesale to landscaping companies, developers and retail centers in Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

His father helped Kenton start his nursery by giving him a few acres of land. Through trial and error, the younger Abrams learned how to care for the plants and keep them healthy, and he learned what it takes to run a business.

Like tobacco, a more traditional Trimble County crop, it is work that hasn’t changed much through the decades. Almost all the work is still done by hand, Abrams said. Pruning, staking, keeping the rows clean of weeds and the soil aerated to a depth of 18-24 inches requires physical labor.

“The processes we use now are the same way they did it 100 years ago,” he said, with the exception of machines made to dig up mature trees.

“It’s a different kind of farming” that also requires a lot of planning because of the time it takes for the plants to be harvested, he said. For example, the 15,000 to 19,000 boxwood shrubs planted this season won’t be ready to harvest until 2018.

Today, the nursery has more than 70 varieties of shrubs and trees— from the most common, bread-and-butter varieties, including boxwood and white and pink dogwood, to the unusual, such as a weeping redbud tree called Ruby Falls, or the Slender Silhouette sweet gum, a “columner” that grows straight up to about 50 feet and is a popular choice for patio-home or parking-lot landscapes.

Abrams credits his diverse inventory for helping his business stay afloat and flourish after the 2008 recession. When consumers were cutting back on landscape spending, Abrams was still investing in and planting his crops. By 2012, when the economy started to turn around, he was beginning to harvest and sell his first crops.

Abrams Nursery employs 13, including his farm manager, Bob Phillips, also of Crestwood, and Abrams said he is looking to hire more workers.

Ten of his crewmembers are from Mexico and are living here on agricultural work visas.

“Without these guys, I would not be in business. They are good people. ... They are smart and intiutive,” he said. The same men return to work for him year after year. “We hang out together after work. They’re like family.”

He admits the nursery business isn’t for everyone. “It takes a lot of time and money to do the work,” and there are always variables, such as harsh weather or insect infestations, he said.

And, ultimately, as with any crop, there has to be a market. “It’s not guaranteed to sell.”

These days, Abrams is spending more time away from the nursery and out talking to potential customers.

“I miss the farming aspect,” he said. “This is what I got paid to do at the other nurseries (when he first started out). Nothing excites me more than to get on a tractor. Farming is what I really enjoy — working in the dirt.”