Farm City banquet honors cream of the crop
By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 24, 2009 1:46 PM
Three Wayne County farmers were honored Monday night at the annual Farm/City Banquet. From left are Betty Gainey, chairman of the Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Committee; Patricia Herring of Dudley, Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Award; Mack Pierce of Nahunta, Wayne County Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee; Debbie Craig of Grantham, whose late husband, Ronald Jessie Craig, was inducted into the Hall of Fame; and Extension Agent Kevin Johnson.
Two new inductees into the Wayne County Agriculture Hall of Fame and the Outstanding Woman in Agriculture were honored Monday night during the annual Farm/City Banquet at the Wayne Center.
The posthumous Hall of Fame award went to Ronald Jessie Craig, who lived and farmed in the Grantham community. L. Mack Pierce of Nahunta was recognized as the living inductee.
Patricia Herring of Dudley was honored as the Outstanding Woman in Agriculture.
The banquet also was used to make the public launch of the "We Dig It" campaign of the Wayne County office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
Lynn Williams, community relations representative for Mt. Olive Pickle Co., gave a presentation on the program, the goal of which is to educate the public about agriculture's affect on the county's economy. It will include the creation of a speakers' bureau, Web site and billboard campaign.
The banquet represents the farming/rural community and the urban community working together to build a better and stronger Wayne County, said Steve Hicks, executive director of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and master of ceremonies for the banquet. The event was sponsored by the Extension Service, Chamber and Wayne County Farm Bureau Federation.
"Today, like other industries, agriculture plays in a global world," Hicks said. "What happens in China, Europe, Central or South America affects our agriculture right here in Wayne County. The fact remains that no other country can produce the quality and quantity of food and fiber products that we can in America and Wayne County. When you purchase domestically grown foods you have an assurance that safeguards are in place ensuring you are getting the safest food grown.
The Wayne County Agriculture Hall of Fame was founded in 1984 as a way to honor local residents who have made outstanding contributions to agriculture.
Selection criteria focus on outstanding contributions to agriculture in a managerial, leadership and voluntary capacity and their impact in the community.
In making the presentation, Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said that Craig began farming at age 13 because of his love for agriculture. Craig was in his early 30s when his family moved to Wayne County in 1986.
He worked for Goldsboro Milling Co. and in 1995, Craig purchased a 624 farrow-to-feeder hog farm, grew the business to a 5,000-sow operation, 65 beef cattle and 1,000 head goat dairy.
He was a member of the N.C. Pork Producers Association Board of Directors and was honored as Outstanding Livestock Producer of the Year in 2007 by the Wayne County Livestock Development Association.
"Ron passed away on April 28 and left a legacy that has affected numerous Wayne County citizens," Johnson said.
Craig's widow, Debbie, and her four children accepted the award on behalf of the family.
Pierce, a native of the Nahunta community, was 18 when his father died and he and his wife continued to tend the family farm growing corn, soybeans, cotton and tobacco.
"While Mr. Pierce enjoyed farming the fields, his real love was raising livestock," Johnson said. "In 1955, at the age of 23, he opened a hog-buying station in Nahunta. Hogs were purchased each day from local farmers and he would deliver the hogs during the night to packing houses in Kinston in Wilson."
Pierce opened Nahunta Slaughterhouse in 1959 and in 1975 he opened Nahunta Pork Center. The business has grown from a family operation to employing 60-80 people annually and has a customer base that extends throughout the eastern U.S., Johnson said.
Pierce is a charter member of the Nahunta Fire Department and a former member of the Mount Olive College Board of Trustees.
Pierce laced his acceptance comments with humor.
"I appreciate being selected for the Hall of Fame," he said. "I am so surprised I said there are still some smart people in the county.
And he had a little fun with his wife, the former Jean Hardison.
"My wife, about 30 years ago, I got up about two o'clock that morning making sausage and the deputy riding around the community saw me walking around in there," Pierce said. "He went to the house and knocked on the door and said, 'somebody is in the Pork Center.' She said, 'Well, go shoot him.' That's how I have been supported."
The couples has two children and four grandchildren.
Betty Gainey, chairman of the Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Committee, presented the award to Mrs. Herring.
Mrs. Herring and her husband, Pat, have farmed for 31 years.
They tend about 350 acres.
"She disks the land and he plants and sprays, that's their deal," Mrs. Gainey said. "At harvest time, he operates the combine and she hauls the grain to the mill or bins."
The Herrings have two topping houses of pigs each.
"This is a 24/7 job, as they hire no help on the farm," Mrs. Gainey said. "They have become a real team and this is truly a family farm."
Mrs. Herring is past president of the Farm Bureau Women. She has volunteered with the soup kitchen and at her granddaughter's school.
"She has said this about agriculture, 'I try to promote agriculture by the way I live,'" Mrs. Gainey said. "'To me, agriculture is not a way of life, it is life.'"
"It is a real honor to be selected," Mrs. Herring said.
She thanked her husband first, then his parents.
"They brought him up to love agriculture because when I was 18 and left the farm in Virginia I swore I would never marry a farmer, especially a tobacco farmer," she said. 'Within two years, I had met and married Pat and we had our first tobacco. But I have loved it. There is no other way of live for me other than farming."