#knowyourfarmer {maybe better than you wanted}

Y’all know those trendy hashtags like #eatlocal, #buylocal, #knowyourfood, #knowyourfarmer? Today I’m putting some pen to paper on that mentality, so anyone who is interested can actually get to know a farmer a bit. Plus this way, I don’t actually have to think of something to write (suffering from writer’s block over here) and I get to harass my favorite guy with 21 questions (#winwin).

Q: So you call yourself a farmer… just kidding! — For those that don’t know, what kind of farmer are you? How big is the farm/how many acres of each crop does the farm have? 
A: I’m a fruit and vegetable — produce — farmer. It’s a two-farm operation, and there are about 50 acres on one farm and 70 acres on the other farm. We grow 12 acres of strawberries. We have roughly another 20 acres of produce that consists of everything from corn, to potatoes, tomatoes — all of our other summer produce.

Q: Can you tell us a brief history of Rudd Farm and how it got to where it is today? 
A: The farm has been in my family for generations. My dad started farming while he was still in college, growing an acre or two of tobacco. Once he graduated, the farm pulled him back and he started growing tobacco full-time. As I grew up on the farm, we always grew tobacco and a little bit of wheat. When I was in high school, we started with 1.5 acres of strawberries. Eventually we stopped growing tobacco, and in 2006 when I graduated college, we added produce into the mix.

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Q: Who all is part of the farm operation today? 
A: My mom, dad, and brother are all part of the full-time, day-to-day operations.

Q: Speaking of…did you always know you wanted to be a farmer? 
A: No. I was supposed to be a civil engineer – that’s what my degree says.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a farmer, or some of the perks of the job? 
A: My favorite part would probably be the actual fruits of our labor – the fresh produce. And I like being outside and having something new and different to do every day.

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Q: What is the most challenging part of farming produce? 
A: One of the most challenging parts is dealing with Mother Nature, and the unpredictability. For instance, with strawberries, we can do everything right on our end – but if we get rain at the wrong time, it can ruin that day’s picking or that week’s picking. And there’s really no way to combat that.

Q: True or false: strawberry season is the most hectic time of year on the farm. 
A: I would say true, simply because that’s when we have the most customers coming to the farm. Also while that’s going on, we’re planting and prepping for produce. So we have a lot of different things going on at one time.

Q: You’ve been at this career for going on 12 years now, and were exposed to the tobacco industry all of your life before that. Based on your memory and experience, and your dad’s history of farming, how has the agricultural industry changed for small farms over the past 20 years? 
A: I would say, when I was growing up, I knew lots of people that grew tobacco. It was good money and people could make a good living at it. Someone could grow 30 to 50 acres of tobacco and make a good living. As times have changed, the tobacco industry changed, and now most of what you see are much larger farms growing hundreds and hundreds of acres of tobacco. You don’t see the smaller tobacco farms as much. About the time that I came back to the farm, that’s when you started hearing about buying local and knowing where your food comes from. Now you see a lot more smaller produce farms that supply directly to the consumer.

Q: What is your favorite thing to eat that you grow? Is there anything you don’t like (but you still claim they’re the best ever to hungry customers) that you grow on the farm?
A: I love the strawberries – they’re the first thing we’re able to eat every spring. Shortly after that, I’m always excited for the first squash or zucchini.

I cannot stand cucumbers. I also do not eat raw tomatoes.

Q: Farming is sometimes stigmatized as a career or lifestyle of isolation – more so for farmers in very rural areas, but also because of what a niche industry it is. To whom or what do you turn when you need help problem solving agricultural issues?
A: There’s the local Guilford County Cooperative Extension located right here in Greensboro. Also through the years, we’ve met regional agronomists that are experts in certain crops. We have a lot of friends that are farmers that we can call on to help us out or consult. And like everyone else–I can do an Internet search to diagnose certain issues. For instance, this year we had a nutrient deficiency in our greenhouse that was showing up on the leaves of the plants, and I found information online that told me it was a potassium deficiency and I needed to add more potassium to the fertilizer mix.

Q: To piggy-back off of that, what kinds of continuing-education or professional development opportunities do you guys take part in? Tailgating before the football game on NCSU’s Ag Appreciation Day doesn’t count… 
A: Each fall and winter we attend the North Carolina Strawberry Association conference, which involves one day of farm tours, and then two days of classes that range in topic from new regulations, to growing practices and marketing strategies. We also usually go to the Southeastern Fruit & Vegetable Expo that has similar opportunities. At these conferences and throughout the year, we have to attend classes to maintain our NCDA licensure to treat pests, diseases, and weeds as necessary on the farm.

Q: True or false: winter time is basically one big ole’ nap at the farm.
A: False…
Q: So what goes on in the off-season?
A: We seed our greenhouse tomatoes in early December, and then those are moved to bags in the greenhouse in the middle of January. That means we’re having to heat and work in the greenhouse by the middle to end of January. In the winter we also do maintenance – changing oil in tractors, fixing what broke in the summer that you didn’t have time to fix then.

Q: How have your personal practices and perspectives changed on farming since you started doing this over 10 years ago? 
A: When we first started produce, you didn’t hear as much about food safety. Now that’s at the forefront of new regulations, and it just makes you more aware of Good Agricultural Practices. The other thing is, when I first started out, I was a bachelor farmer working 80-90 hours a week. I worked all the time. There’s always enough to keep me at the farm for that long, but now with a family, I try to prioritize what needs to be done at the farm.

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Q: What farmer habit do your friends (and wife) make fun of you for? 
A: Probably making fun of grocery store produce and refusing to buy it.
{wife’s addition: also his self-proclaimed meteorology degree, constantly checking the radar on his phone, and calling his dad (approximately 1 mile away) and brother (approximately 5 miles away) so they can all talk about how much rain the other got…love y’all, really}

Q: Okay, let’s be serious for a minute…I know this might be a really sensitive question… if you had to pick a theme song… 
A) She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy {if this is the answer…bless him}
B) Dirt
C) Amarillo Sky
D) Big Green Tractor
E) Heartland
F) Like the Rain
A: (starts singing Clint Black – so I’ll assume that’s the answer…) 

Q: What would you most like readers and the public to know about farmers/farming? 
A: Me being a conventional farmer, I get the question ‘is this organic?’ on a daily basis. I don’t mind answering that question, but I also hope for consumers to educate themselves on the definition of organic. One of the biggest misconceptions is that organic produce is pesticide-free, and that is 100% false. Organic farmers are limited as to what pesticides they can use, but they do use pesticides. And I’m not bashing organic – I’m just saying, know what it is. Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer questions, but ask other questions too like, ‘where is your farm located?’ (even if you’re at a farmer’s market, don’t assume the produce being sold is local) and ‘when was this picked?’ Knowing your farmer, where specifically your food comes from, and the farming practices is just as or more important as knowing whether something was grown organically or conventionally.

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Special thanks to Mother Nature for her cooperation (a rainy evening) and the willing (and only sometimes annoyed by my questions) farmer, Matt Rudd, of Rudd Farm.

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