Faulks chosen as Outstanding Farming Family

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

In late December, J.P. Faulk and his family got a Christmas present nearly half a century in the making. Since 1956, Faulk has been churning the acreage on Ellis Road into cotton, soybeans, corn and peanuts.

&uot;My father and my grandfather were farmers,&uot; Faulk remembers. &uot;That was back when I plowed with mules instead of tractors.&uot;

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He graduated from Nansemond County Training School (now Southwestern Elementary School) in 1952 and went to

farm with his father. Six years later, he started his own cotton-picking farm on Ellis.

But it didn’t last.

&uot;I stopped farming cotton in 1962,&uot; he says. &uot;I wasn’t making any money because I couldn’t find anyone to pick it.&uot;

Fortunately, he had another source of supplemented income: hog raising.

&uot;If I had a bill to pay,&uot; he says, &uot;I could always sell enough hogs to make it. They’d go to Holland and Courtland, and a little bit to Smithfield.&uot;

Now immersed in 75 acres of corn, soybeans and, of course, the area’s trademark crop of peanuts, Faulk’s daily life started before the sun came up.

&uot;I’d probably get up at about 6 a.m.,&uot; he says, &uot;and go feed the hogs. There were between 20 and 120 of them. I’d come back to the house after seven for breakfast, then hit the field planting.&uot;

As if that doesn’t sound difficult enough, he also spent nearly four decades in local shipbuilding.

&uot;I worked at the Newport News Shipyard from 1961 to 1974, and then to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard,&uot; Faulk recalls.

He became a physical science technician in 1979, and a supervisor a few years later. But when he went home at night, there was still a full farm to look after.

&uot;I had some helpers,&uot; he says, &uot;but it was sometimes rough. Sometimes, you’d be out there until midnight or 2 a.m.&uot;

In 1996, a rise in the prices of cotton brought him back to the original crop, but wages fell as the millennium ended, and Faulk returned to beans and ears. He retired from the Naval Shipyard in 1999.

&uot;Cotton requires a lot of help, but soybeans don’t require much,&uot; he says. &uot;I’d still get up around 6 a.m., and had a lot to do during harvest time, between September and December.&uot;

All the while, his wife Marcell was waiting in the house with a new meal or ready to head to the store for some parts.

&uot;I can drive the truck, but not the tractor,&uot; says Marcell, also a registered nurse. &uot;He’ll do this until he can’t do it anymore.&uot;

For the past few years, the Faulks had been attending banquets for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Suffolk Division Board of Directors and Agribusiness Committee’s Outstanding Farm Family of the Year. In October, the organizations gathered to select their 2005 honoree.

&uot;We try to pick families that have stayed in farming for years,&uot; said Lonny Staylor of the Chamber of Commerce staff. &uot;It’s a way of honoring them for hanging in there. There are the kind of people that we look for, because that’s how the city of Suffolk got started, working in the farming industry. This helps us go back to our roots.&uot;

Just before the new year began, the Faulks were notified that their attendance plans would change for the next banquet; instead of cheering for someone else receiving the award, they’ll be taking it home themselves.

&uot;I was surprised,&uot; J.P. says. &uot;I thought one of the bigger families would get it.&uot;

The family will be honored at the Farm Family Luncheon at noon on Feb. 8 at the Holiday Inn on Pruden Boulevard. The guest speaker will be Dee Dee Darden, past chair of the National Peanut Board.

&uot;You see these things happen,&uot; Marcell says with a smile, &uot;but you don’t think they’re going to happen to you. It’s an honor to be recognized and have our family and friends be there to enjoy it with us.&uot;

So what does the future hold for Faulk farming? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like much, Faulk surmised.

&uot;It’s getting harder every day,&uot; he admits, ambling back out toward his tractor. &uot;I maybe have a couple more years. I think I’ve done my part, but there’s always something to do. I’d probably get lonesome not having anything to do, so I guess I’d have to take a tractor ride.&uot;