Story by Meredith Bernard
If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that we have roots to somewhere, from somewhere. Some are shallow and some are deep, but they exist for us all. Living and working on a farm, I’m reminded daily the importance roots have for the viability of our way of life, which causes me to reflect on my own roots and those of people and places around me. Though not always seen or even tangible, roots are vital for giving and sustaining life and allowing for new growth.
The roots of Person County run deep in agriculture and agribusiness. Together they have created a strong bond that holds its people and heritage together, while allowing for continued growth. From its inception as a North Carolina county in 1792, farming was and continues to be a driving force for opportunity, revenue and change. A short drive in any direction through the county exposes those long-standing, foundational roots that give its people pride and have provided life and sustainability for this gem of north central North Carolina.
The agricultural landscape of Person County is as diverse as the people who call it home. Three hundred ninety-five farms totaling over 95,000 acres of land contribute $91 million dollars in added value to the county’s economy. These farms consist of everything from livestock (including cattle, hog, and even bison), a winery, forestry, row crops, as well as fruits and vegetables grown and sold at farmer’s markets, farm-to-home stores and farm-to-table restaurants. For over ten years, the non-profit S.P.E.E.D. Community Garden has been helping enrich, educate and employ special population youth, also providing an excellent way for people to give back to their community through volunteering. In addition, the Person County Public Library is now offering a “seed library” where members can check out up to 5 seed packets a year to grow in their home vegetable or flower garden. For anyone not wanting to get their hands dirty, a scenic drive along the county’s quilt trail gives a glimpse into the county’s heritage and passion of those who’ve painted the squares and displayed them on barn sides. In short, a multitude of resources abound for anyone living in Person County to be involved in agriculture.
As with any root system, sometimes help is needed to keep them thriving. In a time where many farmers are reaching retirement age, a new generation of farmers is rising, including children of farmers and other young people getting into farming for the first time. This new crop of farmers are not only keeping older family farms alive, but also seeking opportunities to utilize both the fertile ground of Person County for new products like industrial and medicinal hemp, as well as creating agri-tourism opportunities to capitalize on the county’s close proximity to Research Triangle Park.
While the landscape of Person County agriculture speaks volumes by itself, the people who make up the backbone of its existence sum up what farming means to them and their communities best. Kevin Moore, owner of Rock of Ages Winery, says, “Farming is a life style, not a job. The life style is passed down through generations. Like most family businesses, just being around the work and hearing the conversation at the dinner table prepares you for the life style.”
Dr. Claudia Berryhill adds, “Person County’s farms offer a way of life that produces not only the crops or livestock, but youth that value work ethic. Farm families see God-given magnificent sunrises and sunsets, witness the miracle of birth and accept the inevitable deaths. The youth feel the roots of heritage as farms pass down generations of ancestors.”
Person County’s well-established agricultural roots are supported and nourished through the Person County Extension Office and the collaboration of many county department and federal and state agencies. Jennifer Grable, Area Extension Agent for Family & Consumer Sciences, works daily to educate people on food and nutrition, and is passionate about the important role she sees agriculture play in the lives of everyone in her community, as well as the profession itself, saying “Farming is one of the most important, noblest, thankless, and hardworking professions there is and provides so much to the community of Person County.”
Whether driving the countryside or speaking to someone directly involved, the importance of and passion for farming and agriculture in Person County is palpable and long-standing. While farming may not be for everyone, in a place where its roots run this deep, there is something in it for everyone and everyone benefits from its growth.
Meredith Bernard is a farm wife, mom to two, photographer, free-lance writer and regular contributor to this magazine, living and working on a beef cattle farm in Caswell County. She’s a firm believer in the power of life stories, strong coffee and daily grace. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @thisfarmwife and her personal blog at www.ThisFarmWife.com.