2018 Johnston County Farm-City Week Banquet

Russell & Elaine Wood Family, Commissioner Cookie Pope Recognized

Smithfield – It is tradition for the Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee to host a banquet each year to celebrate agriculture and agribusiness in Johnston County.  Agriculture and the greater agribusiness industry are part of a tremendous partnership that accounts for roughly 10% of the Johnston County economy and 10% of county employment.  Agriculture generates over $250 million each year at the farm level.

This year’s banquet was held on November 19th at the Johnston County Agricultural Center Auditorium.  Mrs. Lynda Loveland, North Carolina Farm Bureau Public Policy Director, was the banquet speaker.  Brandon Parker, Bryant Spivey, and Dan Wells provided entertainment by singing the song, “Thank You Lord for Your Blessings.”

All Smithfield-area financial institutions and several local agribusinesses sponsored the event, including: AgCarolina Farm Credit, Agri Supply, B&S Enterprises, BB&T, Carolina Eastern – Benson, Central Marketing, Coastal AgroBusiness, CW Flowers Store, Farm Bureau Insurance – Smithfield Office, First Citizens Bank & Trust, Hilltop Farm Supply, Johnston County Farm Bureau Federation, Johnston County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, KS Bank, Medlin & Dorman, Inc., Nutrien Ag Solutions, Quality Equipment, Regions Bank, Southern Bank, Swift Creek Nursery, United Community Bank, and WTSB Radio.

Paul Eldridge, Emily Eldridge, and Candace Parker (FFA Advisor)

Also included in Farm-City Week celebrations is the Hungry to Help food drive benefiting Backpack Buddies. Sponsored by Johnston County 4-H and Johnston County FFA Chapters, the winning 4-H club and FFA chapter that collected the most food by weight received a $100 prize. The winning groups were Animal Adventurers 4-H Club and South Johnston High School FFA. Food was also collected the night of the banquet, with all donated items going to the Backpack Buddies programs at West Smithfield Elementary and Selma Middle School. The total amount of food collected this year for the Hungry to Help food drive was 1,932 pounds.

Every year the Johnston County Farm-City Week committee recognizes families or individuals from the county that have made significant contributions to the local agricultural economy through either agribusiness or farming. This year the committee recognized Russell and Elaine Wood Family of the McGee’s Crossroads community and Commissioner Cookie Pope of the Cleveland community.

Russell & Elaine Wood Family
Clyde and Alice Honeycutt grew tobacco and produce on their farm in the McGee’s Crossroads community, where their daughter Elaine, was involved in 4-H as a youth. She met her future husband, Russell Wood, when his family moved to Johnston County in 1960. The two attended Cleveland School together as well as Providence Presbyterian Church, where Russell’s stepfather was the pastor. While in school, Russell raised a steer as part of a FFA project that would spark a lifelong passion and career. Following Russell and Elaine’s marriage, they purchased 3 Duroc boars that they entered in the NC State Fair. Those boars placed 1st, 3rd, and 5th, and Russell and Elaine got hooked on showing. At the height of their purebred swine operation, Russell and Elaine had as many as 40-50 purebred sows. Russell and Elaine’s sons, Jeff and Robbie, showed throughout their youth as well.

Justin Wood, Mary Wood, Jeff Wood, Ava Wood, Russell Wood, Elaine Wood, Maci Wood, Robbie Wood, Stephanie Wood, Riley Wood, and Charlotte Wood

When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, Russell had to temporarily relocate to assist with recovery as part of his position with Southern Bell. Around the same time, changes were occurring in the swine industry, so Russell and Elaine decided to sell their hogs. However, the Wood family didn’t stay out of the hog business for very long. Both Jeff and Robbie had been working with other contract hog operations and were ready to start their own. In 1996 they purchased a farm in Bladen County to enter in the commercial hog industry. Currently, that operation, called Cedar Bay Farm, is a 3,400-sow farm on contract with Murphy Brown. They later opened a 1,600-sow farm in Cumberland County called Riverview that is on contract with TDM. Robbie and Jeff both initially lived on the farms, but they now have around 20 employees who handle many of the daily tasks. The family credits the ability to run multiple operations to dependable employees, many of whom have been working with the Woods since they first purchased the farms.

Once Russell and Elaine decided to build a home on their farm, Russell got two calves from a friend. Although those calves were like pets, they eventually grew horns that would hurt when they would rub into Russell’s side, so he traded them for a Black Angus cow that had a calf a few months later. Over the years Russell would add a few more cows until there were around 15 on the farm. Following retirement from the phone company in 1998, the family decided to become breeders of a registered Angus herd, which became part of Cedar Bay Farm.

In 2009, the Woods invested in a set of Angus cows from Schaff Angus Valley in North Dakota. They re-named and re-branded the business as Wood Angus Farm. Since 2012, Wood Angus has hosted an annual production sale of their herd, which is not only a community event, but attracts buyers from multiple states. Today, Wood Angus Farm is a leading seed stock producer in the southeastern United States.

Russell and Elaine Wood recognize that showing livestock taught many important life skills, such as work ethic, responsibility, and dependability. As Jeff and Robbie’s children were born and became of age to show, they returned to the show ring with cows. Elaine also helped lead the McGee’s Crossroads 4-H Club. The Wood family also routinely hosts youth livestock judging groups at their farm. In 2017 the National Junior Angus Association toured their farm as part of the LEAD Conference in North Carolina. For their contributions to the purebred swine industry, Russell and Elaine became the first couple inducted in the North Carolina State Fair Hall of Fame in 2001. The Woods are also dedicated members of Providence Presbyterian Church, where Russell, Elaine, and Jeff have all been elders.

The Wood family work together on a daily basis for the business; Russell’s 94-year-old mother, Dorothy, still keeps the books for Cedar Bay Farm, and Jeff’s wife, DeEtta, was a bookkeeper and organized the cattle sales until her passing in 2015. Russell and Elaine Wood have had many accomplishments in the livestock community, but undoubtedly their greatest achievement is having children and grandchildren who love and support each other.

Commissioner Cookie Pope
Sarah Cooke grew up on a farm in the Pisgah Hopewell community. Along with her parents, Willard and Juanita, and sister Judy, the family grew tobacco, corn, and cotton. In 8th grade, one of Sarah’s friends gave her a nickname that stuck – “Cookie.” Being reared on the farm taught Cookie about work ethic, including once picking 200 pounds of cotton in a day. Cookie enjoyed growing up on the farm, but swore she would never marry a farmer! Throughout her youth, Cookie was involved in 4-H, both through school and community clubs, which allowed her opportunities for developing social and life skills. As a teenager, Cookie attended a friend’s birthday party where she met a young man from the Cleveland community named Jackie Pope. Following graduation from Smithfield High School, Cookie and Jackie were married and she moved with him to the Cleveland community – where he was a farmer and she took classes at Johnston Community College. Despite wanting to move away from the farm as a child, as an adult Cookie appreciated that way of living.

Jackie Pope and Commissioner Cookie Pope

Over the years, Jackie and Cookie grew tobacco, wheat, soybeans, and had hogs and cattle on the farm. They also had three sons, Clay, Franklin, and Timothy. For Cookie, her priority was being the best wife and mother she could be, so she worked as a teacher assistant at Cleveland School in order to be home with her children in the afternoons and summers. This schedule also allowed her to do something she enjoyed, freelance writing. Two of the columns Cookie wrote in the newspaper were, “Out Cleveland Way” and “Green Ink,” which was devoted to plants and gardening. As Jackie and Cookie’s boys got older, Cookie went to work with George Mast at his law firm, where she has been for over 30 years now.

In 1994, Cookie had been a longtime resident of the Cleveland community and wanted more representation in that part of the county. Despite many people telling her she would lost, she won a seat on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. For the past twenty four years, Cookie Pope has used her position as county commissioner to serve not only those citizens in the Cleveland community, but all of Johnston County. Notable changes during this time period include greater support for the school system, Johnston County Airport, the building of a new hospital, and the Johnston County Agricultural Center, in addition to increased economic development. In looking back on her time spent serving as a commissioner and all she has accomplished, Commissioner Pope feels certain that her path was God’s plan for her life.

Commissioner Pope has served on numerous boards including the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Agricultural Committee and Legislative Goals Committee, Voluntary Ag District Board, and Johnston Health Board of Directors. Commissioner pope also holds the distinction of being the only female to serve as chairperson of the Board of Commissioners. As a county commissioner, Cookie Pope has served with the work ethic of a farm girl and the disposition of a cheerleader; she is a constant champion for Johnston County and its people. Cookie herself says, “I can talk all day about Johnston County. We have a great education system that I would put against any other and wonderful communities that offer so much to its residents.”

Back Row – Irene Jackson (club leader), Gage Johnson; Front Row – Leah Jackson, Becca Jackson, Seth Young

Commissioner Pope still remained active in her home community, as she worked with Cleveland community leader Elgie Wells to create the Celebrate Cleveland 4th of July festivities. Commissioner Pope has also been award the North Carolina 4-H Outstanding Citizen Award in 2015 and is involved in the Johnston County Chorus, where she helps write their programs. In addition to her community, Cookie is a dedicated member of Elizabeth United Methodist Church. She leads the weekly children’s church program, teaches the adult Sunday School class, writes the church Christmas programs, and helps maintain the grounds and landscaping.

Although Commissioner Pope is stepping down from serving as a county commissioner at the end of the year, she will undoubtedly continue making Johnston County a better place to live.

“The Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee is proud to honor Russell and Elaine Wood family and Commissioner Cookie Pope for their outstanding contributions to the farmers and consumers of Johnston County,” officials said. “They exemplify what Farm-City Week is all about, the partnership that puts food on the table of American families.”