By: Bryant Spivey County Extension Director and Cassidy Hall, Extension Agent
JOHNSTON COUNTY – Farm-City Week is part of a national celebration of the partnership between farmers, suppliers, truckers, distributors, grocers, and the American consumer to feed our great nation and our local communities. On November 15, at their board meeting, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners declared November 19-25, 2021 as Farm-City Week in Johnston County.
There are opportunities for local citizens to engage in Farm-City Week by contributing food to local charities or to the Farm-City Week food drive. Contributions for the food drive can be dropped off at the Johnston County Ag Center or a local food pantry of your choosing. Also remember to thank your local farmer, trucker, or the cashier at the grocery store for the part that they play in making sure we all have a plentiful food supply.
Other activities during the week include the Johnston County Youth Livestock Festival Meal on November 19th from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm at the Johnston County Livestock Arena. This is a special meal celebrating our youth livestock program and local foods like pork, beef, chitlins, slaw, cornbread, sweetpotatoes, and chicken pastry. Tickets for this meal are $12 and can purchased at the event or from participants in the show and sale. Those attending can eat-in and enjoy the entertainment or choose drive through service.
Farm-City Week Recognition
Each year the Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee recognizes a local farm and an agribusiness for their outstanding lifelong or multi-generational contributions to agriculture in our county. This year the honorees were recognized at the Johnston County Board of Commissioner Meeting on November 15. These presentations can be viewed on the Johnston County Government Facebook or on Youtube and occur very early during the agenda. Please join us in celebrating their accomplishments and let them know you appreciate their service and accomplishments in the community.
The farm honoree for this year’s Farm City Week is the Myron Smith family. Myron is the owner of Smith’s Nursery located just outside of McGee’s Crossroads in Benson. Myron’s grandparents, Dave and Melissa Smith farmed in the Lucama community of Wilson County until Dave’s death in 1935.
In 1939, Melissa remarried and relocated to Johnston County where she purchased a farm on Zack’s Mill Road, near Stephenson Rd. Myron’s father Nolan Smith, farmed with his mother and later was a tenant farmer in Pleasant Grove township where he met and later married Katherine Stephenson.
In 1953, Nolan and Katherine Smith purchased a farm, referred to as the “John Carroll Place,” which now serves as the current location of Smith’s Nursery on Sanders Road. Tax records indicate the original home was constructed in 1919 and it was here that Myron and his 3 brothers were raised. The homeplace is preserved on the property still today.
Myron’s father farmed tobacco on an allotment system. In addition to tobacco, the Smiths raised a few hogs, corn, and soybeans on 12-15 acres. Upon graduating from South Johnston High School in 1971, Myron attended NC State University. Originally pursuing a degree in Agronomy, Myron met lifelong friends along the way. Roommate, Cal Lewis, who you may recognize from Lewis Strawberries in many grocery stores, helped Myron to find his passion in Horticulture.
Myron graduated with a Horticulture degree in December of 1975. It was his final semester at NC State University where he attended a blind date with Sarah Farris, a student at Peace College whom he later married in 1978. Sarah was from Wilson, NC where her mother’s family were farmers for several generations and her father’s family were immigrants from Lebanon and operated a department store in Wilson. Myron prides himself on plucking Sarah from a life of luxury to join him on the farm. Myron and Sarah have three children, Chris, Mitch, and Farris.
Upon returning to the farm after graduating from NC State, Myron assisted his father with 10 acres of tobacco while Myron and his cousin, Keith Smith, farmed 7.5 acres of tobacco together. In 1976, Myron’s father passed away. It was at this point Myron finished the crop year and was called to teach at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. He later landed a managerial position at Wilder’s Nursery in Knightdale and in 1980, Myron returned to the farm and established Smith’s Nursery.
Myron always had a desire to wholesale, initially growing and installing landscapes, selling crops at the NC State Farmers Market in Raleigh, as well as selling to garden centers during the days of Raleigh’s development boom. While landscape installations helped to sustain Smith’s Nursery, Myron always wanted to return to the nursery full time. Myron credits other nursery growers, especially Thurman Mclamb, and involvement in the Johnston County Nurserymen’s Association with helping to support and grow his business.
In 1994, Smith’s Nursery grew the first crop of strawberries and began selling the berries, as well as nursery plants, on site in 1995. In 1998, Myron and Sarah invited their son Mitch’s 1st grade class to pick strawberries and allow children to experience the farm. It was at this point they recognized interest in hosting field trips and began offering U-pick strawberries. In time, the Smiths began to add blueberries and other produce to their farm.
In 2008, Myron’s oldest son, Chris, returned to the farm after graduating from Belmont Abbey College with a degree in Business. Chris took an interest in greenhouse crops, researching in Mississippi for a time and later expanding the operation to produce greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of lettuce, herbs, and strawberries. Several of these items can be found in local restaurants. In 2009, Smith’s Nursery began to offer Fall activities featuring hayrides and pumpkins.
In 2013, Myron and Sarah’s son Mitch graduated from NC State University with a degree in Agribusiness. After gaining experience off the farm, Mitch returned to Smith’s Nursery in 2015 focusing his efforts on the wholesale business and inventory side of the nursery. Smith’s Nursery is truly a family business with roots in decades of farming.
Smith’s Nursery recently opened a new store on site featuring farm fresh produce, value-added goods, local meats and dairy, complete with an ice cream and coffee shack. Chris’ wife, Arlene [also referred to as the “Director of Fun”], provides innovative ideas to attract new customers through coordinating events and providing education through social media and farm tours.
Myron and Sarah’s daughter, Farris, can also be found helping customers in the store and filling orders when not teaching at Wake Tech. Myron and Sarah have two grandsons, Nolan and Charlie who are enjoying farm life. They are also excited to welcome their first granddaughter in February.
Ronnie’s Country Store
Our 2021 Agribusiness Honoree is the Ronnie Parker Family, owner of Ronnie’s Country Store nestled beside I-95 in Four Oaks. Ronnie is the son of Coolidge and Julia May Parker. Ronnie grew up in the Blackmon’s Crossroads community, graduating from South Johnston High School in 1970. He soon joined the Navy where he served for four years prior to his start in farming.
In 1976, Ronnie began raising tobacco, soybeans, corn, cows, and hogs in addition to truck farming with Howard and Willie Hockaday. Ronnie and his wife Karen were married in February of 1982 and she has supported the family working in the medical profession with Horizon Family Medicine for many years. During this time, Ronnie got his start in the wholesale business.
On November 1st of 1984, Ronnie opened his first 2-bay service station in Four Oaks providing automotive services, gasoline, and tires. In time, the location was expanded as Ronnie began to offer tractor tires and purchased a service truck. Ronnie maintained the location for 12 years until I-95 road construction forced the location to close for demolition and make way for the current 87 Exit ramp.
In the early 2000s, Ronnie transitioned from a 4,000 square foot facility to his current 9,600 square foot storefront and 7,200 square foot tire shop. The business now provides fuel from non-highway diesel to non-ethanol gasoline and tires for golf carts to tractors, to implement tires.
Ronnie’s Country Store is a cornerstone for area farmers and residents carrying clothing, shoes, hats, knives, local specialty foods, hardware, garden supplies, hay, as well as groceries. Ronnie returned to farming when the new store was built and currently tends 50 acres of corn, melons, squash, cucumbers, onions, peas, and more. These items can be purchased from the store when in season. At all times of the year, however, you can find Hershey’s ice cream available. Ronnie was awarded the Gold Scoop Award, selling over 300 gallons of ice cream per week in the summertime.
As you can imagine, running a business requires much help. Ronnie has 20 employees, including full-time and part-time, in addition to the help of his two daughters Kasey and Kelly. Ronnie’s Country Store is a place where young people can benefit from the mentorship of Ronnie, learning a variety of agriculture and life skills. Ronnie’s business endeavors are far from over. Ronnie’s Lunch recently opened on October 4th in downtown Four Oaks.