One of the last — and fondest — memories I have with my Papa is the day we drove out to the cow pasture near his home, one of many he worked with his brother, and watching as the cattle came running to the sound of his voice. He called them to the gate in a tone I’d never heard him use before, with such fluent confidence — it was like he and the cows shared their own personal language, one only they could understand.
In that moment, his eyes twinkled with pride. He was doing what he’d always done — and he did it well.
Papa had never learned to read or write. When he was just a boy, he was pulled out of school to work on his family’s rural farm, where they grew tobacco and cotton, as well as their own food. As an adult, he worked as a long-haul truck driver, crossing nearly every state line in the U.S. — his inability to read road signs never once slowed him down — and constructed grain bins (cylindrical containers made of metal with vented, dome-shaped roofs used to store wheat, corn, oats, seeds, soybeans and barley) all over the Southeast and across the Midwest.
By the time I came along, he had retired from those and returned to farm work, which never really looked like retirement at all, raising cattle and growing soybeans and cotton. His skin was leathery from the sun, deep brown and marked with lines that mapped out his farmer’s tan. The middle finger of his right hand was missing its outermost joint, lost years before I was born in a farming accident. After that, he refused to wear anything other than a western-style snap-button shirt, which would allow for quick removal in case it ever got caught up in farm equipment. (The chest pocket was never without a cigar, a carpenter’s pencil and his reading glasses.) There was only one type of boots he liked; when a pair wore out, he’d buy another of the same. His jeans were the color of the fields he worked, and there were deep lines that told countless stories around his piercing, often mischievous sky-blue eyes.
Underneath all of that was the strongest man I’ve ever known. Yes, he could lift and carry more weight than any 82-year-old man should — but his strength extended far beyond brawn, to every aspect of his life. His work ethic was unmatched, his mental resolve unyielding. He was toughness come to life, the very definition of tenacity — displayed even in those final days, when we all had to find a way to say goodbye despite every fiber of our beings yearning for just a little more time with him.
In this issue of Discovering Bulloch, we celebrate those who have dedicated their lives to agriculture — people a lot like my Papa. From Jamie and David Cromley of Kairos Farms in Brooklet to Joe Franklin and Bill Renz at the farmstand out Highway 301, we’re thanking Bulloch County farmers for the tireless work they do to put food on our tables and our plates.
We also take a walk down memory lane as we reflect on five years of events held at the Bulloch County Agricultural Complex and the impact it’s had on our community in the years since opening.
Finally, we've created a calendar, adapted from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, that’s packed with all kinds of helpful information about growing vegetables in your own backyard — a perfect way to get some “dirt therapy” (my mom’s term) this spring.
March 19 is National Ag Day, but the American agriculture industry is something to celebrate every day of the year. If you’ve eaten today, be sure to thank a farmer.