The Adventures in Coming Home...

After living out of state for many years, several years back I found myself moving back home where I grew up on a small tobacco farm in a rural agriculture based community. There my family had raised several acres of tobacco each season to help add to my parents' ‘real job’ incomes.  Working in tobacco was something many in my family did…on Mom’s side and on Dad’s.  Most of the neighbors around, all grew tobacco too.

Flash forward a few years, after graduating from college with a marketing degree, getting married and moving out west, I landed a job at the front desk of an international ad agency. With that natural work ethic from the farm, I was able to work my way up from the entry level job to holding one of two senior executive leadership positions in the company.

So fast forward over an exciting, travel filled career in the digital advertising and marketing field, to today…after deciding to move back home. Being fortunate in landing an opportunity to work for Southern SAWG, my role although not one of actual farming, is to market the organization, assist with outreach and development, manage the digital assets (website, social media, online marketing projects) while also recruiting sponsorships for the annual conference with close to 1200 people attending each year.  I had always thought I’d wind up retiring back home (the farm now a cow/calf operation) so making the move back before retirement was especially exciting being able to participate in agriculture and reconnect to my roots while also putting all that corporate experience to meaningful and good use.

In this role, it’s as if the area is a laboratory from which to learn.  Although the day to day work is done from an office on the computer, it is getting out into the community that has really allowed me to quickly get up to speed on the latest sustainable (and conventional) ag best practices.  Reacquainting myself across the county, I see firsthand the types of programs SSAWG offers assisting small, sometimes disadvantaged, family farmers become more profitable in their farming and agritourism efforts. It helps me immediately relate to what is happening in many other rural communities across the south which in turn allows me to be better at my job.    

Having been out and engaged with the county extension team, the economic development and county government folks, and the local community college with their new agriculture program in conjunction with the high school, the important work being done regarding healthy eating and the local food system is being met with excitement by most in the area.  We have farmers here growing hops, hemp, prawns, tilapia, beautiful cut flowers, vegetables (including purple peppers and heirloom tomatoes) of every kind and there is a large bee keeping population here too.  There are over 200 farmers raising all types of cattle.  And then there’s alpaca farms, goats, and sheep, oh my! 

The diversity of farmers and types of farming is quite broad.  Discovering there are others like me that have returned home, some reconnecting with family and the land, others after experiencing successful careers outside of the area that include Veterans who have served us well, engineers, teachers and doctors.  In addition, there are those from afar (Washington State, Connecticut, Texas and California) that have identified this small community as a place where they want to live and are excited about our beautiful countryside, slower pace of life and are embracing the opportunity to share their experiences and put previously fallow land back into production. There is a millennial population making a very different type of career and lifestyle choice than the type my generation (Gen X) was making to climb up the corporate ladder and race to who could work the most hours each day and presumably make the most money too…which of course is a good thing as long as kept in check.  

Moving back to experience the rural life remembered fondly as a child, it certainly is nice to find a great combination of the old, traditional, transitional, new and the up and coming types of farmers.  The understanding that smaller well-organized farms can be consistent producers, build a community and be profitable, is beginning to take hold.  Of course, there are days when the reminders that everyone does not always see things with that same enthusiasm occasionally surface.  Things like ‘that won’t work here’ or ‘we’ve tried that before and here is why it won’t work’, or ‘…are you crazy? We don’t do that around here’…or other possibly discouraging comments.  And sometimes maybe that answer is ‘yes, I am a little nuts’, but mostly I just try to smile.  It’s like there is a little secret (and a few others have already discovered it), that at some point, the doubters will likely figure out too, just like I did.  When the timing is right, for each of them. 

Caswell County is the place and it is positioned well to be a destination to so many around the region as the land of farmers, the source of farm fresh food or a place to spend the day in a more peaceful space.  As the local food movement and farm to table experience continues to grow, we have much to offer those who come to visit and in turn help us to enrich our lives and work here.  Caswell becoming more economically developed, is about having the land fully operational, thriving small businesses, and farmers flourishing where now a variety of livestock and crops instead of the once golden ticket, tobacco, is raised. 

A special thanks to all that are a part of this community.  Many have allowed me to come to a meeting or participate in their work.  It is very refreshing to experience all the positive work people are doing.  Living in this place that is special because of its natural beauty and community; it is exciting work to figure out where one can plug in, pitch in and help out in some way.  I think it’s going to be a great adventure!

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The mission of Southern SAWG is to empower and inspire farmers, individuals, and communities in the South to create an agricultural system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, and humane. Because sustainable solutions depend on the involvement of the entire community, Southern SAWG is committed to including all persons in the South without bias. Amanda serves as Director of Outreach and Development for the organization.

Amanda Hodges