Farmer-veteran Inheriting the Farm

Farm: Buckpigg Plantation
Operator: Gary Purgason
Production: Pastured eggs, Vegetables
Location: Madison, Rockingham County, NC

Gary Purgason returned home to his family’s farm after serving for four years in the military. Gary remembers helping his mother around the farm from the time he was born, but he never thought he would find himself back on the land. He didn’t picture himself farming full-time, especially after serving in the Marine Corps during the Iraq War and later attending college to train for a career in industrial engineering. Yet farming felt natural to him and he began to realize how much he had been impacted by his family’s agrarian roots. In 2008, he began managing the 42-acre farm that his mother inherited from her great grandfather and soon established a CSA. “I didn’t know that most of my life people that I looked up to were farmers and now to say that I am one of them, there’s been a lot of pride in it,” Gary said during an interview.

A love for the land and respect for those who tend it is shared by Gary’s great uncle Pete Carter, who farms just up the road from him. He is proud to see his nephew stewarding the family’s land and planning for its future. Pete himself served in the army for 34 years before retiring and returning home to farm. In an interview he reflected, “Farmers are independent. They don’t mind being alone. They don’t mind getting dirty. It’s just an inner feeling, an inner pride that you have in knowing that you created something that sustains somebody else’s life.”

Gary returned with a desire to develop a new enterprise on his family’s fourth-generation former tobacco farm. He decided to focus on specialty crops, growing a variety of vegetables for his CSA and nearby farmers’ markets. With his vegetable production in full swing after two years of hard work, Gary decided to initiate a free range egg operation with a flock of about 50 hens. In order to increase production and the quality of his products overall, he knew that he needed to invest in improving the farm’s aging infrastructure.

In 2010, Gary received a grant to build a wash-house on his farm. A wash-house, or processing facility, is essentially a storage building with plumbing, electricity, and a concrete floor. It is a necessary structure for cleaning, storing, and packaging products for market. Gary designed his wash-house so that one side can be used to process eggs while the other side can be used for processing vegetables. His building combined the two functions most important to his farming operation under one roof.

With a centralized location for processing produce, Gary increased his capacity for storage, allowing him to harvest and store vegetables more easily. It also gave him more time to focus on establishing his farm management plan. He developed a closed-loop fertility system by rotating his chickens and vegetable plots that suppressed weeds while increasing forage for the chickens. Within five months of implementing his plan, he noticed a significant increase in production from his laying hens.

Gary anticipates generating an additional $5,000 annually thanks to the new infrastructure, which would put the farm on sound financial footing and allow him to invest more of his time into the business. “I want to be able to inherit the farm, and, with my project, it should be self-supporting and keep it in agricultural production,” he said.