Spotlight on Local Farmers
Hard working is just the first thing that comes to mind when we think about our local farmers. Today, farming is very much connected to science and technology. From using drones to monitor crops, to using innovative farming practices, our farmers are tops in their field! Here we will introduce you to some of Johnston County's farmers, many whose families have been farming here since the early 1700s.
Meet Wayne and Denise Worley of WDW Strawberry Farm U-Pick/We-Pick Roadside Stand. Wayne is from a multigenerational farm family and began his own operations of the farm in 1986. Wayne and Denise are both from Princeton, although they joke that they were on opposite sides of the railroad tracks. They were glad to get on the same side of the railroad tracks when they got married in 1996. They love their community and have been serving through many civic engagements over the years. The most notable of these is that this year will mark 35 years of being a volunteer firefighter for Wayne.
They welcome the public to their strawberry stand during the season for you-pick and we-pick strawberries. Their first strawberry crop was in 2016 which also gave way to their farm stand that same year. They not only manage 1.5 acres of strawberries, but they also grow sweet corn, peas, tobacco, soybeans, hay, and wheat. You can also get your wheat straw from them too. Wayne and Denise are proud to sell the products they grow.
With all the work going on at WDW Farms, they love and honor their employees. Denise said, "We couldn't do what we do without our help and they are our family." José has been working with them for 12 years, Luis and Rodrigo for 8 years, Ángel for 2 years, and this year Enrique joined the team.
This year, everyone has enjoyed the new photo opportunity signs at the farm and they welcome you to come take your picture too. Make sure to get some tasty strawberries or even some jams, jellies, and salsa. You heard that right, strawberry salsa!
This 4th generation farming operation has been growing strawberries for 14 years while also producing soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, and cover crops. In 2016, they started their annual veggie box program which just so happened to kick off this week and runs through August. If you hurry, Lisa can still get you signed up if you send her a message! If you don't know Lisa, you will soon. She is the "L" of J & L Produce.
She works alongside her husband, Jason, on the farm and you guessed right because he is the "J" of their produce company's namesake. Jason also works as an Account Development Manager for NACHURS® Liquid Fertilizers and served on the Princeton Volunteer Fire Department for 27 years. They are working hard to have a farm to pass down to the next generation and have a lot of respect for the family before them. In fact, when you visit their farm market you will find a Farmall Super A tractor that was bought brand new in 1950 to work the same land that he and his brother, Brian, are on today. It is parked in the farm market and serves as an homage to their "Daddy" and "Uncle Billy".
"We like to make our customers feel like friends and family when they walk in the door. Whether folks buy a $1 tomato or a $28 flat of strawberries, they are our friends and we treat them the same." They shared how thankful they are to have grown their strawberry business from their garage and shop to the farm market that stands today. They have also diversified into selling beautiful flowers for purchase. If you can't make it to the farm market, you can also find their strawberries at Town Market in Pine Level and the Carlie C's IGA of Smithfield.
It is all hands on deck at this 4th generation family farm. They grow about 8 acres of strawberries along with greenhouse tomatoes, pointed cabbage, spring onions, red potatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, cantaloupes, corn, watermelons, and pumpkins.
They have been selling their products at the State Farmers Market for over 20 years and began selling at their McGee's Crossroads stand in 2019. Their long-standing presence at the State Farmers Market is evidenced by one of the pictures which shows brothers, Anthony and Jonathan Penny, taking a much-needed snooze under a tree at the market. That same tree at the State Farmers Market still stands today, although it is much larger. This is just one special memory that Jonathan and Anthony have of their dad, Johnny, selling wholesale watermelons. Johnny passed away in 2021, but his legacy lives on through the hard work and dedication of his family, friends, and helpers. In that same year they started offering you-pick strawberries for other families to begin creating their own memories.
The guys are busy growing quality produce for you to enjoy, but make no mistake that there is a lot of "girl-power" in the Penny family. Anthony and Jonathan's mom, Celia, still lives in the original farmhouse and is affectionately called "The Corn Lady". She has a strong following from her customers and in some cases, they want to buy from "The Corn Lady" and her only! Anthony's wife, Laura, and Jonathan's wife, Lisa, are integral parts of the farm also. That sentence is really an understatement for all that they do. They both used to be preschool teachers which comes in handy when children come to pick strawberries at the stand.
When you visit their stands, someone from the Penny family is there to meet you and they want to know you. You can start building a relationship with your farmers! The next generation of Penny boys are already getting in good practice in the produce business alongside their parents. It is really special that they all live on the farm today. As our county grows, the need for quality foods does not decrease. We hope that you will continue to support JoCo Farm Families like Penny's Produce! You will be glad that you did and you will have made some new friends in the process.
For this interview we jumped on the side-by-side ATV with Stephanie Moore and precious farm dog, Penny, to hear their story. They are a 3rd generation family farm and the list of crops they produce is long and growing. Stephanie joked that her husband, Ronnie, said if they add another crop, they will have to stop growing something else. I learned they usually compromise by trying the new crop and never taking anything off the planting list. This claim must be true because as we drove around the farm, everyone was hustling from field to field and truck to tractor. Here goes our try at listing out all the things they grow: strawberries, potatoes, cabbage, kohlrabi, bok choy, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, onion, spring onion, collards, specialty herbs, cut flowers, and super hot peppers. They are tending about 60 acres right now.
Stephanie and Ronnie grew up just down the road from each other. Ronnie has farmed his entire life and Stephanie is a veteran saleswoman at the State Farmers Market. She also farmed with her family and they still tend and live on their farm today. They have a barn quilt that shows a schoolhouse, sunflower, flag, and helicopter. This serves as a tribute to Stephanie's mother who was a school teacher and loves flowers and her father who served in the Vietnam war and was a helicopter pilot. Ronnie and Stephanie got married on this farm and began operating it together in 2000. They have three children, Cheryl, Gracie, and Bryson. Stephanie and Cheryl are both NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumni. Gracie attends UNCW and Bryson attends South Johnston High School.
This is a family that loves their farm and works together. In 2017, Ronnie experienced a massive heartache that landed him in the hospital for triple bypass. For 7 days he and Stephanie were in the hospital. Meanwhile, a family friend, their employees, and three children did their best to keep the farm operating. Neighboring farmers came by and helped prepare the land and worked on getting them ready for the growing season. Stephanie says that this difficult time made their family stronger and they are so grateful for the community that came together to help. And don't worry, Ronnie is better now and gave us a big wave when we drove by him.
Farming isn't a 9 to 5 job that can be left in an office building; it is an integral part of life for farm families. It is hard work and they do it because they love it. Be on the lookout for what they will grow next because they are always trying new crops for your family to enjoy!
There is no shortage of fun at this place and that has everything do to with the family that makes it all happen. This farm was originally purchased by Myron's parents in 1953 for row crop production. Myron went on to study horticulture at NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and graduated in 1975. Upon his return to the farm, his father passed in 1976. Myron and Sarah Smith started their wholesale nursery in 1980 with woody ornamental plants and first crop of strawberries in 1995. They recall early strawberry memories of Myron's mother wearing her fanny pack that served as a mobile cash register. Between customers, she would be close by the strawberry trailer in her home washing dishes and doing other chores. She would listen out for customers pulling into the driveway and go help them. Mrs. Smith was an early adopter of the belt bag trend that is so popular today!
Today's operations have certainly diversified with activities that include you-pick strawberries and blueberries, self-guided field trips, traditional group field trips, free story time, free little library, ice cream and coffee stand, workshops and special events, garden center, and fishing to name a few. The next generation of Smiths are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. Brothers, Chris and Mitch work full-time at the farm as well as Chris' wife, Arlene. Although they don't work on the farm daily, there is still strong support from sister, Farris and partner, Caitlyn, and Mitch's wife, Kelly.
They are very community focused and even offer spirit nights for local schools to fundraise and have recently hosted Cleveland School Rotary Club's 5K race. They want their farm to be a place that families can experience together, where friends can meet for a cup of coffee, or individuals can even stop by to swing on the front porch. Being community-driven means their family is also engaged in many organizations such as Johnston County Farm Bureau's Board and Women's Committee, Voluntary Agriculture District, 50-210 Fire Department Board, Johnston County Nursery Association, Johnston County Nursery Marketing Association, NC Strawberry Association, and NC Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, and NC Nursery and Landscape Association.
Keep up with all of the happenings at Smith's Nursery and Produce Farm; they are a great destination to take a break from the hustle and bustle!
In a part of the County that has experienced a tremendous amount of residential growth, the Pace Family has completely changed their farming operation. Once a traditional tobacco farm, has now been transformed into a farm stand offering fresh produce and products to the community. The transition of a farm is not an easy one. However, the love that they have for farming in the Archer Lodge community is greater than the fear of trying something new. In October of 2022, they welcomed the 7th generation that could potentially farm the land. In fact, Jerry Jr. was holding grandson, Liam, during this week's interview. It is abundantly clear that they don't take things for granted, especially that they are trusted to grow food for their family and yours!
The piece of land where they welcome visitors today is the same piece of land that Jerry Jr. purchased 3 months after his high school graduation. Not too long after that, he married his sweetheart, Deborah. They are blessed with two daughters, Michelle and Cara who have also grown up loving this lifestyle. The girls learned to serve their community from the example of Jerry Jr. and Deborah. Jerry Jr., also known as "Sweet", served over 28 years with the Raleigh Fire Department and retired as a battalion chief. He also served 32 years with the Archer Lodge Fire Department.
Life is not easy. Your life is not easy. Farming, firefighting, and raising a family is not easy. But the moment you turn down their dirt path from the hustle and bustle of the pavement, it feels a little easier. Deborah recounts stories of beloved customers who have lost loved ones and came to the farm for refuge. The healing that comes from slowing down and breathing fresh air is hard to measure but it is surely felt. This isn't just about picking a bucket of strawberries. It is about fostering joy, relaxation, and mindfulness. These things are priceless.
Try it out for yourself! Each week they create a "Taste of the Farm" box that is full of their produce and usually includes a special item from Ruth Lee's Cattle Company! Although they are widely known for their strawberries, they also grow broccoli, cabbage, kale, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, sweet corn, soybeans, and wheat. We can't encourage you enough to follow their social media. There is always something going on at Pace Family Farms!