Steering to local trend paying off for Worrells
By JANE W. GRAHAM
AUSTINSVILLE, Va. — The Worrell Family Farm, among the mountains and rolling hills of Carroll County, is one of the farms finding success in Virginia’s growing trend toward locally grown food.
Alan and Kellie Worrell have 147 acres in production this year, Kellie said on a recent busy morning. Workers on the farm had already harvested three wagon loads of sweet corn, a wagon load of yellow squash and were picking string beans. Others were packing produce headed for area grocery stores.
The Worrell Family Farm grew out of a way of life Alan had known growing up on a farm. He worked for a while as a retail manager for Southern States Cooperative and then began farming on his own.
He started with stocker cattle, Kellie said and when the cattle market took a dip, they looked for a better way to utilize their land.
Kellie said they started with sweet corn, which remains their largest crop, and then added green beans.
Last year they added squash. They start the season with snow peas. This is their sixth year growing produce.
She pointed out how different crops are grown on the farm tour. The snow peas are planted in the center of plastic laid on the soil.
When the weather gets too hot for these early spring plants to grow, the Worrells plant beans on the edges of the plastic for a late crop.
She said all the beans and squash are planted on plastic with trickle irrigation. This year they have 3.25 acres in pole beans and 13 acres in “half runners.”
They use a trellis system of posts and string that allows the beans to grow straight up to a height of six feet. This enables workers to pick from the bottom up and enables the farmers to usually pick the beans seven times in a season as the beans continue growing upward.
Most of the Worrell’s produce is sold to Food City, a regional grocery chain serving Southwest Virginia and parts of Tennessee. The produce is sold through a wholesale coordinator who works with local growers to be sure the chain’s locally grown needs are met in its stores.
Aside from all the usual struggles in a growing season, the farm was without electricity for six days following the derecho, the straight line wind storm that struck Virginia on June 29.
On July 2, a wind and thunderstorm laced with hail struck the farm. It was the hail in that storm that damaged their crops.
Kellie said it would definitely have an affect on their yield.
The Worrells irrigate from a creek at the foot of a hill 2,500 feet to a reservoir on top of the hill. Water is then pumped from the 100,000 gallon holding pond to the plants.
Kellie said that all the water is chlorinated right as it is pumped to the fields from the reservoir. Their irrigation system allows them to fertigate (feed the plants water soluble fertilizer) or whatever they need.
The irrigation pipes are visible running up and down the rolling to steep hills of the farm.
She said they also have a mobile irrigator, which they have not had to use so far this year.