Small Farmers Are Special

— Written By Christy Strickland and last updated by
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It is hard to determine the exact definition of a small farm. Some try to define small farms by the amount of income that is generated each year. Others place more emphasis on acres, while even others consider the amount of management time that is devoted to the farm operation. Whatever definition is used, small farms make a major contribution to the state’s $84 billion agricultural industry, and it is easy to understand that small farms play a very important role in American agriculture. Small Farms Week recognizes the small-scale producers in North Carolina who generate $250,000 or less annually in agricultural gross sales.

Each year, Small Farms Appreciation Week is officially observed during the first week of spring. This is a time when everyone is encouraged to give special recognition and appreciation to the small farmers of the state who do so much to provide vegetables, meats, and fruits for us to enjoy. North Carolina A&T State University provides leadership for this statewide celebration, but the Extension Centers and their staff in each individual county are the ones that coordinate local celebrations.

Lucius Epps, whose family history of farming in Robeson County goes back at least two generations, was the 2017 North Carolina Small Farmer of the Year. He and his wife were honored with the award last March during the 2017 Small Farms Week luncheon hosted by the Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University.

Epps and his wife Vera own Epps Produce Farm and have more than 41 years of agricultural production experience. Their farm includes 130 acres of soybeans and more than 30 acres of other fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, and squash. Using techniques to extend his growing season, Epps grows 6.5 acres of produce using black plastic and drip irrigation, which has increased the profitability of his farm enterprise by $10,000 in the last four years. Although farming is innate to the life-long grower who began his career in 1976, Epps credits N.C. Cooperative Extension in Robeson County and the outreach from A&T’s Extension program for helping him learn new techniques to remain successful. Nelson Brownlee, Farm Management Agent on our staff, has worked directly with Mr. Epps for many years.

Since we have the honor of being the home of the 2017 Small Farmer of the Year, the 32nd Annual Small Farms Week begins March 26 here in Robeson County at the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Events Center. This kickoff celebration will include a panel discussion with master farmers, a luncheon, and a tour of local farms, including the Epps Produce Farm. The event continues March 27–28 on the N.C. A&T campus with educational workshops, demonstrations, and a March 28 luncheon where the 2018 Farmer of the Year will be announced.

We want to congratulate all the small farmers of Robeson County and thank them for what they do to provide our food. We especially want to congratulate Mr. Epps for being selected as the 2017 Small Farmer of the Year. As a consumer of agricultural products, think about making a special effort to express appreciation to a small farmer in the county.

For more information, please contact Christy Strickland, County Extension Director with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website.

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University are collectively committed to positive action to secure equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, and veteran status. NC State, N.C. A&T, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.