by Ashley Burrell, Special to The Washington Post
Growing pumpkins in Virginia is no easy feat, and some years are so crushingly challenging, it’s tempting to walk away.
Yet for 7½ acres on the farm of Tom Witt, the burden is worth it.
“I do this for my family,” said Witt, 56, whose family has farmed in Fredericksburg for 14 generations. “I feel so good when they are delivered to my front door.”
“We’re always moving, so we need new space every year,” he said.
Pumpkins are a reliable, year-round crop for the Witts, who grow the seasonally popular flamboyant hobby on about the same acreage each year. Although they began as only dairy and orange-hued farmers, spinning cartwheels to be forthright has taken some work.
Witt said he gets only one bit of advice from his mother and father, who thought they were being coy about the family’s farming roots when they bought their land in the 1970s: They shouldn’t tell anyone the land is agriculturally-based until they had established the farm.
It took some push-back from local farmers in the 1980s and 1990s, but today, Witt said, most industry experts agree that agriculture is best left in the family.
That includes agriculture-based businesses, in which farmers cultivate and employ humans on a permanent basis.
Agriculture-based businesses, such as tractors, houses and trailers, and food production companies, also call upon long-term workers on a rolling basis.
“A company like us will have an average working life of three to four years,” Witt said. “[The farming industry] hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years, it’s been the same.”
According to Witt, agriculture-based businesses have attracted many small-town farming families across the nation. He cites the success of historic corn growers who expanded beyond their traditional territory, such as the 80-year-old Hoodcrops family, as evidence that agriculturally-based businesses are hardy.
“My mom and dad told me they had first-hand experience, when they were still on the farm, of wagon trains coming from Virginia,” Witt said. “They could sense how panicked they were because of the economics of agriculture.”
Eddie and Sylvia Perry began focusing on agriculture-based businesses in 1994. They bought a cattle ranch and planted garden crops. But within five years, they realized they were running out of land, so they bought additional land to build a dairy farm on. In 2010, they built a new dairy farm and built the property around it to house 30 homes and a barn, which they subsequently turned into agriculture-based businesses.
The Perrys now have about 450 dairy cows, and they use their building as the headquarters for a subsidiary company that specializes in very long growth tools and grow-finishing fiber.
“We’re proud of our heritage and traditions, and we feel that agriculture businesses are getting stronger,” said David Perry, 48, the company’s chief executive and founder. “The circle is getting stronger, as values shift.”
In the United States, the agriculture industry employs 7.2 million people directly and 70.5 million indirectly. Although small-town farming families still do some production of their own on the land, they’re rarely the only family on a farm, Perry said.