Friday, August 13, 2010

Franklinville, North Carolina: Richard Whitaker, Whitaker Farms

Another North Carolina staple crop that has nearly vanished with new legislation is tobacco. Richard Whitaker was a big grower until recent years when he switched to tomatoes and other crops, with just a portion of his fields still devoted to tobacco. He speaks of tobacco with mixed feelings; once it was the cash crop that supported him and put his kids through college, but it's been hard to grow something so controversial health-wise. These are the dryers used for the leaves:

Richard took us to his greenhouses where tomato vines climb their trellises on 10 foot diagonal ropes. This design maximizes space and produces beautiful juicy tomatoes that Trav and I filled our bags with (with Richard's blessing). Richard's farm is spread out in several plots and we drove out to see the tobacco. The soil ranges from sandy to clay, often in in a single plot, with ground ranging from pale brown-grey to rich, thick red. One field is full of organic tobacco and the other is conventional. The farm has many diverse plots like this, a field of organic strawberries and a field of conventional corn. Richard seems like a man who enjoys experimenting and taking risks which is imperative for being a successful farmer.

One last point that Richard touched on that we have heard from more than a few farmers bears repeating. Richard spoke about being a steward of the land, and though he uses chemicals with some of his crops he talked about doing so responsibly and not flinging poisons around with wild abandon. Hearing him say this I realized that that is the picture the words "pesticides" and "herbicides" have usually invoked in my own mind. Seeing Richard in reality lean down to pick up a handful of dirt and shake it around in his hands to see if it's healthy (something I've seen almost every farmer do) and gingerly lift up his strawberries to see if there are any left though its late in the season drives home the fact that farmers seem to be doing the very best they can to produce food they are extremely proud of. The land almost seemed to be an extension of Richard himself.


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