Diversification helps Va. farm in slumping livestock, milk prices

By Jane W. Graham
AFP Correspondent

WYTHEVILLE, Va. (Oct. 25, 2016) — Pumpkins have served as a revenue source for a Wythe County, Va. family over the 15 years they have been growing them.
Richdale Farm is a diversified farm that includes a dairy operation, a 500-ewe flock of grass-finished katahdin hair sheep, beef cattle, raising dairy heifers along with growing fall produce including 15 acres of pumpkins and decorative gourds.
Eric Crowgey was working with his son Aaron and employees Blake Earhart and Jared Hovencamp to try a new experiment while being interviewed on a bright October morning.
The pumpkins have become important for different reasons over the years.
The elder Crowgey explained that when they started growing pumpkins the money went to a college fund for their children; from there it went for weddings.
This year, with the dairy industry in a slump, it will supplement the income from the dairy farming.
The young men were working to grade and unload pumpkins for the family’s first venture into opening up their pumpkin business to the public. Aaron was tossing pumpkins to his co-workers who caught them and placed them on the grass according to size. The display created by their work was intended to provide an easily accessible way for customers to choose a pumpkin.
The next step was to tell friends on Facebook about the venture and hope they would come.
Eric said they usually grow six or seven varieties of pumpkins and some gourds. They market them wholesale through a broker to several grocery chains.
The pumpkins are shipped throughout the Southeast with many being sent to South Carolina and Georgia.
The Crowgeys grow their pumpkins in a rotation with corn, changing fields each year. The corn is used as silage to feed the cows.
The dairy herd currently includes 111 cows with milk being sold to Piedmont Milk Co. and going to Ingles and Breyers ice cream.