Company selects local grower for state award

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Charles Parkerson made a life-changing decision while attending Virginia Tech in the 1960s: He enrolled in a horticulture class.

He loved the class so much that he went on to earn his degree in the subject.

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&uot;After graduating, I needed a job,&uot; Parkerson said. &uot;An opportunity arose to purchase a small growing operation without needing to make a down payment so I took it.&uot;

Today, that &uot;small growing operation&uot; – better known as Lancaster Farms – has grown into 160 acres of plants and trees. The wholesale nursery is one of the largest in the mid-Atlantic region.

All that has led to Parkerson, founder of Lancaster Farms, being named the 2003 Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for Virginia. Swisher International, through its Lancaster Premium Chewing Tobacco brand, and the Sunbelt Expo have sponsored the competition for the past 14 years.

Parkerson is now competing against winners representing seven other southeastern states in the national competition. A panel of judges will visit the Parkerson operation, along with those farmed by the other finalists, to evaluate the business within the next couple of weeks.

Dr. Peter Schultz, director of the Hampton Roads Agriculture Research and Extension Center, nominated Parkerson for the award.

Winning the state competition netted the Suffolk grower several prizes, including a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International; a jacket and $200 gift certificate from the Williamson-Dickie Co.; a commemorative gun safe from Misty Morn Safe Co; and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States.

He is also eligible for the $14,000 cash award that will go to the overall winner and the use of a tractor for a year from AGCO Inc.

Meanwhile, Parkerson is happy to continue growing his plants and his wholesale business.

&uot;We go east of the Alleghenies and as far north as Massachusetts,&uot; said Parkerson. &uot;Basically from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and we sell to nurseries, garden centers and landscape contractors.&uot;

The original location is at Bennett’s Creek. But today, the wholesale nursery also has sites on Pitchkettle and Murphy’s Mill roads.

Parkerson recently purchased another 150 acres for future expansion. Approximately 25 acres of that site will be used for a state-of-the-art recycling system that keeps all water on the property.

Lancaster Farms employs about 110 people.

Name? Charles &uot;Charlie&uot; H. Parkerson

Age? 57

Family? My wife is Margaret, and we’ve been married 35 years. We have three children: a daughter, Laura, who lives in Chicago; a son, Arthur, who lives in Suffolk and works at the nursery; and a daughter, Sarah, a resident of Scotland, where she is a professional student of decorative arts.

Education? I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1968, with a degree in horticulture. I am a graduate of Wilson High School in Portsmouth.

Career/occupation? I am one of the founders and stockholders of Lancaster Farms in Suffolk. We have three locations in Suffolk

Favorite thing about your job? I don’t have a job. This is a lifestyle. It’s something that I have a passion for and I live it every day. It’s tiring and sometimes frustrating at times but I still love it. I would love for it to be May year round.

Least favorite thing about your job? I least like having to discipline an employee. Also, I do not like filling out surveys, particularly of the government type.

Volunteer activities? I’m on the board of directors of the American Nursery and Landscape Association.

Favorite thing about Suffolk? It is truly a surprising place to live. We’ve been here almost 35 years and the city has grown on us. The people here are very nice and have been good customers and neighbors.

What accomplishments are you proudest of? Just being in business in the same location for 35 years is an accomplishment to me. I am proud of the business we have established with our customers and friends and the growth that our employees have made over the years. Some of them have been with us from the beginning and watching them and their families grow is very gratifying.

Who or what motivates and inspires you? My employees inspire me. We have 110 people and most of them are like an extended family.

Favorite way to spend free time? At my house in Vermont. We go there to partake of winter sports like skiing. I love it!

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others? In every deal, the buyer and seller must win. It’s a two-way street for everything in life … and integrity and honesty must be in every transaction between the buyer and seller. I’ve always said that I would never do anything that would be a negative comment on my life in a newspaper.

What ingredients are in the recipe for a good life? Church. We attend the Village Church in Bennetts Creek. Friends are also important and family, of course. Making a profit must come in here, of course.

How do you wanted to be remembered in this life? I want to be known as an honest man. It’s that simple.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would never have smoked that first cigarette. I haven’t had one today, but it’s only 4:30 p.m. I do it one day at a time!