During a tour at D&A Farms, curious observers watched as Craig Busch talked about the process of raising hogs on the farm in Autryville. Shortly after, a group of piglets received some attention as they made their way toward the crowd.
D&A Farms is not large, but it has just enough space for owners Donnie and Alease Williams to be successful and start a growing legacy. Busch, their son-in-law, will lead operations in the future along with his wife, Ella Busch.
The visit was one of the highlights of Small Farms Week, which kicked off Monday morning in Sampson County at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center. Sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Program at North Carolina A&T State University, the purpose of the observation is to recognize the contributions of small farmers in the state.
“In North Carolina, family farms play a big role in contributing to an $84 billion agricultural industry,” said James Hartsfield, area farm management for Sampson County Cooperative Extension.
The theme for the 31st anniversary is “Growing a Safe, Sustainable Food System.” Hartsfield was joined by many local and statewide officials who applauded the work of small farmers and agriculture in North Carolina. Some of the others included Eileen Coite, director of Sampson County Cooperative Extension; Clark Wooten, chair of the Sampson County Board of Commissioners; Dr. Fletcher Barber Jr., eastern regional program coordinator for the Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University; Keith Walters, southeast district Extension director; and Dr. Barbara Board, interim associate administrator for the Cooperation Extension Program at N.C. A&T.
A few officials spoke about the significance of agriculture in Sampson County. According to 2015 statistics, the cash receipts for livestock, dairy and poultry was $1 billion and $265 million for crops.
“Agriculture is what we do in Sampson County and we’re pretty good at it,” said Ronnie Jackson, president of the Sampson County Friends of Agriculture. “One of the reason is that it has one of the most innovative and forward-thinking farmers of any county in the nation.”
Ed Emory, president of the N.C. Farm Families, spoke about a successful farming economy, made possible by neighbors helping each other, as well as universities and organizations such as Cooperative Extension.
A panel discussion focused on small farm life in Sampson County featured local producers Sharon Funderburk of Beartrack Farms; Alease Williams of D&A Farms; James Lamb, a hog nursery grower; and Dwayne Faircloth, co-owner of of Mill House Orchards and Avenue Gourmet Pecans. It was moderated by Deborah Johnson, a communications and public affair strategist and member of the State Advisory Council for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. She called them farming rock stars.
Some of the topics involved marketing and getting the word out about their products. Faircloth spoke about online sales and Funderburk told stories about giving tours to children. Alease encouraged anyone with an interest to become involved with farming.
“There’s plenty of information for us at Cooperative Extension,” Alease said. “I will always be an advocate for them.”
Along with D&A Farms, the other stops included H&D Farms and William Farm and Enterprise. Last year, Donnie and Alease Williams were recognized as the 2016 North Carolina Small Farmers of the Year for their D&A operation. Each year, the celebration begins in the home county of the previous award winners. In addition to hogs, the 140-acre farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat for animal feed. Goats and sheep are also raised on the farm.
The Sampson County sponsors for the kickoff included Sampson County Farm Bureau, Inc., Four County Electric Membership Corp., National Corp Insurance Service, Cape Fear Farm Credit ACA and Whitaker Small Farm Group.
Small Farms Week will continue this week with education forums on the A&T campus and the announcement of the 2017 Small Farmer of the Year.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.