Robeson and Montgomery County Growers Named Small Farmer of the Year Finalists

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A Robeson County farm couple who grow fruits, vegetables, and culinary and medicinal herbs, and a veteran farmer in Montgomery County who has adopted high tunnel agriculture, an advanced water harvesting and holding system, and other innovations are the two finalists for the 2022 Small Farmer of the Year Award.

The award winner will be announced at the Small Farmers Appreciation event beginning at 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 23, in Greensboro. The event is one of the highlights of North Carolina Small Farms Week, the annual recognition of small farmers and the key role they play in North Carolina’s agricultural economy, presented by Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University.

“Both of these nominees represent the best of North Carolina’s diverse agriculture community,” said Barbara Board, Ph.D., interim Extension Administrator and Associate Dean in N.C. A&T College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES). “These farmers seek out opportunities for education and innovation, they are both active in their communities, and they are committed to helping their neighbors understand farming and its role in building strong, healthy communities.”

Small Farms Week was launched 36 years ago to connect with small-scale farmers—including minority farmers and those in limited-resource communities—and ensure they receive the latest research-based information on farming techniques, new tools, and technologies. It also gives the public a chance to meet their agricultural neighbors and learn about farm operations and food production.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Changing Times, Growing Seasons.” Small Farms Week begins Monday, March 21 with a kickoff event in Franklin County, the home of 2021 Small Farmer of the Year Mike Jones, who owns and operates MAE Farm in Louisburg.

Events will include a wide range of online educational sessions as well as the unveiling of the new Small Farmer of the Year. The public can register for all events at the Small Farms Week website and can tune in to the Small Farmer Appreciation event on March 23 at the Extension at Cooperative Extension A&T Facebook page (Cooperative Extension at A&T). The website also includes information on how to participate in Small Farms Week from Extension satellite locations in Warren, Martin, Columbus, Madison, Stanly, and Alleghany counties.

Meet the 2022 Small Farmer of the Year finalists

Millard and Connie Locklear, New Ground Farm, LLC, Pembroke (Robeson County). Since 2015, the Locklears have grown collards, winter and spring root vegetables, and herbs on their 27-acre farm. They have worked closely with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, to educate themselves and improve the farm’s profitability and sustainability. They adopted high tunnel production to lengthen their growing season and control pests and have been able to increase their profits by 50 percent as a result. They became certified in Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs), which has allowed them to sell to wholesale markets, and they converted land that was damaged from pesticide overuse into a chemical-free organic farm using integrated pest management techniques. The Locklears share their knowledge and passion for farming with their community in a variety of ways, including working with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to offer research opportunities and hands-on experiences to students in the sustainable agriculture program. They have also partnered with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina to help them establish a farmer cooperative and a young farmers program. The Locklears give their time to numerous county commissions and committees and have served as 4-H volunteers and Master Gardener trainers.

Charles Lucas, Lucas Farm, Jackson Springs (Montgomery County). Lucas is a Vietnam War Veteran who was injured overseas, came home, and decided to devote his energy to farming. He has owned and operated Lucas Farm since 2008, where he grows field and high tunnel vegetables and will soon offer pecans. He is known for his sustainable practices, including a complex water-harvesting-and-holding system capable of holding more than 7,000 gallons of rainwater. Lucas supports agricultural education and has worked with Extension agents and N.C. A&T faculty to provide an off-campus classroom where students, including himself, can learn about fall vegetable production and sustainable practices. He sells through a roadside stand, local farmers markets, and to restaurants, making sure his produce is as fresh as possible by picking the morning of or the night before markets. He offers space in his cooling system to other local farmers for storage and to help them get their products to local markets. Lucas is a strong advocate for the needs of small and minority farmers and has served on the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, the volunteer Agriculture District Board, and the Farm Bureau Board of Trustees.

“We are delighted to support the significant contributions of small farms across our state and are extremely proud to have one of our very own Robeson County farm families in the running for the title of Small Farmer of the Year” said Mac Malloy, Interim County Extension Director at the Robeson County Center. “We invite the citizens of Robeson County to support our small farmers beyond one annual week set aside to recognize their many contributions to providing a safe and affordable food supply.”  Malloy encourages folks to support the Locklear family by watching the announcement on Facebook or attending one of the six in-person watch parties.