Produce Farmer Exchanges Tobacco for Veggies
So often we run across stories that begin with "once upon a time." That opening pertains to many farmers who grew up on tobacco farms where their families provided ample income.
For John Daniel Blue, known as J.D., the story line began to change a few years ago as the demand for tobacco began to decline.
Blue worked the farm for more than 40 years until the economics of tobacco farming no longer supplied him with income for the family.
"As a matter of fact," Blue says, "tobacco farming became more of a financial burden. Growing tobacco was very good for many years and gave growers a good income -- enough money for families to live properly. We also got a lot of help from the states. But the support is not there anymore. Many of the large tobacco companies bought out the farmers. The government did not spend one dime to assist us.
"Everyone thinks the government helped, but they did not buy anyone out. Only companies like R.J. Reynolds and others were the main buyers."
In 1910, Blue's father moved from Mount Airy to Vass, where he farmed tobacco until 2005.
"Dad owned 180 acres of land," says Blue, who purchased the farm from his dad in 1978.
For Blue, farming is a way of life.
"You get used to it, and you do it every single day," he says. "As the demand for tobacco became less and less, our labor costs grew more and more. We needed a place for the pickers to live and pay their wages, but we just didn't sell as much as we did once upon a time. By the time I pay taxes and insurance, tobacco became a very high-priced crop to grow. I could not make ends meet by farming tobacco, so I had to find another income."
Blue wondered how best to make the change from tobacco farming to growing produce.
"I had to make some major choices because I wanted to grow fresh produce that I could sell to the community," he says.
Blue planned to grow seasonal crops for each of the four seasons.
"I wanted to grow vegetables no matter what time of year it was," he says.
Once he decided to grow a variety of fresh produce, Blue began the tedious job of planting.
"You have to plant at the right time to get the produce harvested properly," he says.
When it came to selecting a major crop, Blue selected corn -- not just regular sweet corn, but a special variety.
"We sell quite a lot of sweet corn," he says. "Our sweet corn is really different. It tastes fresh and sweet. It's known as ambrosia corn, which is an Indiana corn that grows well in this area. Ambrosia is a warm season crop. Every March we start the corn going and sell a lot of it."
Blue also grows tomatoes, onions, watermelon, cantaloupe, field peas, cucumbers and squash.
"During the fall season, we have collards and cabbage plants," he says. "Turnips are available along with some very tasty sweet potatoes. We're going to grow everything people want to eat these days, and we can offer folks a variety of produce without all the grocery-store prices."
Another of Blue's large crops is pumpkins.
"We have all sizes for anyone who likes pumpkins," he says. "Folks love our pumpkins as much as we love them. And we offer hayrides during the fall season. We like to have families join us."
To be cost-effective, Blue searches for a top-grade yet low-priced fertilizer.
"We also stick to organics when we grow our sweet potato crop by using chicken litter," he says.
Another cost-effective item is the irrigation system.
"Water conservation is important to us," he says, "so we try to use water effectively. We have three ponds and a water hole. Sometimes, with the help of friends, we water by hand and pick the produce so it will be fresh for our customers."
As with many farmers Blue's Produce Farm is being hit by the economic trends.
"But folks always want fresh produce because it's healthy and tastes good," he says. "And we try to provide healthy foods for everyone's table."
Blue's wife, Judy, also helps on the farm.
"She will do whatever needs to be done," he says with a chuckle. "She's a great big help."
Blue's Produce is located at 4532 Vass-Carthage Road and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact freelance writer Anita Stone at email@example.com.
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