It has been said that once in your life you will need a doctor, lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher,
but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer. JW Merrell Farm, located at 1725 NC Highway 101 in Beaufort, is a family-owned and run farm. They are the oldest active NC Century Farm in Carteret County.
According to Johnnie Merrell, his great grandmother started the farm in 1868. Johnnie began farming in 1961. Now Johnnie, his wife Belle, and two sons, Joe and Wesley, run the 40-acre farm. In the beginning, there were tobacco crops and different types of vegetables grown. Now they mostly grow salad greens, lettuces, onions, Irish potatoes; the largest of the crops are strawberries in the spring and collards in the fall/winter months.
Collards are a big tradition here in the south. Johnnie says, “I still use seeds from collards that
have been in my mother’s family for over 100 years.” He uses the least amount of chemicals possible on all of his crops. He adds, “I go by the saying of an ounce of prevention is worth a
pound of cure.” He begins the crop by spending a lot of time on the tractor. He loves to be out in
the field with the sun beating down and what he says “cutting the field and doing it until it is just
right to plant the seeds.” Then he plants and goes out every day to look at the fields. The process begins in August and he will have collards until sometime in March. Collards need a good frost to have the best taste.
There are challenges in farming; one of the main challenges is extra help is hard to find. Johnnie says, “But the Good Lord sends people when I really need them. What I have learned about farming all these years is that the Good Lord has everything under control.” He has talked to younger farmers who seem stressed and he advises them “don’t get in a hurry for anything. Slow down.” Some more advice is “everything has its cycle and you have to go with what the land says to do.” He says, “God has blessed us with a good crop of collards this year.” Studies show some health benefits of eating collards; they may lower blood cholesterol, reduce cancer risks, improve bone and liver health, aid in digestion, help you sleep better, and improve your skin and hair.
A traditional southern meal on New Year’s Day consists of pork, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and his family still keeps that tradition. Eating pork brings prosperity, black-eyed peas bring good luck and collards bring money. And even if it doesn’t really, eating together foods that are healthy and grown right out of the land and being with family does bring all those things.
“From Our Field to Your Table” – How to cook collard greens
Cooking collards takes time but is well worth it. For the fresh flavor, look for leaves with a firm
texture that hasn't yet wilted. A deep green color free of blemishes or browning is best. These greens tend to collect the sandy soil they grow in, so a thorough rinse under running water is a must, but not enough. Allow your collards to soak in water for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to loosen any dirt. Then give them a final rinse to remove any of the remaining sand. Shake off the excess water and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the stems from each leaf and toss them. You can do this by either cutting the stems out with a knife or simply tearing the leaf away from the stem. Now you're ready to get cooking! Add water or broth to a large stockpot, along with smoked meat (like ham hocks) and seasoning. Add greens to the pot. Allow them to simmer for an hour or until tender, stirring throughout.
At the end of the day, it is all about faith, family, and farming; it is more than land and crops. It is a family’s heritage and future.
Rebecca Jones is a contract writer for the Carteret News-Times and a member of the Carteret Local Food Network blog writing team. She was born and raised in the Piedmont Triad area where she spent most of her life. She has two grown children and 6 grandchildren. Writing has always been a part of her life and she believes that it is a way to showcase and bring awareness to events that affect your community. In April of 2018, Rebecca and her husband George moved to Beaufort, NC. Her most recent two books, Love Brings You Home (about Hurricane Florence) and Go Deep (a devotional with photos), are sold locally and on Amazon.