FEATURE PAGE
November 25, 2021


Two families honored for their ongoing
farming and agribusiness contributions
  


THE MYRON SMITH FAMILY: With Extension Director Bryant Spivey (on the left) at last week's presentation before the Johnston County Board of Commissioners are Myron Smith, Nolan, Chris, Charlie, Sarah, Arlene, Farris, and Mitch. Behind them are Commissioners Fred Smith, Patrick Harris, Tony Braswell, Chad Stewart, Larry Wood, Butch Lawter, and Ted Godwin.



THE RONNIE PARKER FAMILY: With Extension Director Spivey (on the left) are Ronnie and Karen Parker, Kelly Thornton, Greg Barefoot, Kasey Thorne, Brad Thorne, and Leslie Barefoot. (County of Johnston photos)


By Bryant Spivey, County Extension Director and Cassidy Hall, Extension Agent

 

Each year the Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee recognizes a local farm and an agribusiness for their outstanding life-long or multi-generational contributions to agriculture in our county. This year the honorees were recognized at the Johnston County Board of Commissioners meeting on November 15....


SMITH'S NURSERY


The farm honoree for this year’s Farm-City Week is the Myron Smith family. Myron is the owner of Smith’s Nursery located just outside of McGee’s Crossroads.


Myron’s grandparents, Dave and Melissa Smith, farmed in the Lucama community of Wilson County until Dave’s death in 1935. In 1939, Melissa remarried and relocated to Johnston County where she purchased a farm on Zack’s Mill Road, near Stephenson Road. Myron’s father, Nolan Smith, farmed with his mother and later was a tenant farmer in Pleasant Grove Township where he met and later married Katherine Stephenson.


In 1953, Nolan and Katherine Smith purchased a farm, referred to as the "John Carroll Place," which now serves as the current location of Smith’s Nursery on Sanders Road. Tax records indicate the original home was constructed in 1919 and it was here that Myron and his three brothers were raised. The home place is preserved on the property still today.
           

Myron’s father farmed tobacco on an allotment system. In addition to tobacco, the Smiths raised a few hogs, corn, and soybeans on 12-15 acres. Upon graduating from South Johnston High School in 1971, Myron attended N.C. State University. Originally pursuing a degree in agronomy, Myron met life-long friends along the way. Roommate Cal Lewis, who you may recognize from Lewis Strawberries in many grocery stores, helped Myron to find his passion in horticulture.


Myron graduated with a horticulture degree in December of 1975. It was his final semester at N.C. State where he attended a blind date with Sarah Farris, a student at Peace College whom he later married in 1978. Sarah was from Wilson, where her mother’s family were farmers for several generations and her father’s family were immigrants from Lebanon and operated a department store in Wilson. Myron prides himself on plucking Sarah from a life of luxury to join him on the farm. Myron and Sarah have three children: Chris, Mitch, and Farris. 

 

Upon returning to the farm after graduating from N.C. State, Myron assisted his father with 10 acres of tobacco while Myron and his cousin, Keith Smith, farmed 7.5 acres of tobacco together. In 1976, Myron’s father passed away. It was at this point Myron finished the crop year and was called to teach at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. He later landed a managerial position at Wilder’s Nursery in Knightdale and in 1980 returned to the farm and established Smith’s Nursery.


Myron always had a desire to wholesale, initially growing and installing landscapes, selling crops at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, as well as selling to garden centers during the days of Raleigh’s development boom. While landscape installations helped to sustain Smith’s Nursery, Myron always wanted to return to the nursery full time. Myron credits other nursery growers, especially Thurman McLamb, and involvement in the Johnston County Nurserymen’s Association with helping to support and grow his business.
 

In 1994, Smith’s Nursery grew the first crop of strawberries and began selling the berries, as well as nursery plants, on site in 1995. In 1998, Myron and Sarah invited their son Mitch’s first-grade class to pick strawberries and allow children to experience the farm. It was at this point they recognized interest in hosting field trips and began offering U-pick strawberries.


In time, the Smiths began to add blueberries and other produce to their farm. In 2008, Myron’s oldest son, Chris, returned to the farm after graduating from Belmont Abbey College with a degree in business. Chris took an interest in greenhouse crops, researching in Mississippi for a time and later expanding the operation to produce greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of lettuce, herbs, and strawberries. Several of these items can be found in local restaurants. In 2009, Smith’s Nursery began to offer fall activities featuring hayrides and pumpkins. 

 

In 2013, Myron and Sarah’s son Mitch graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in agribusiness. After gaining experience off the farm, Mitch returned to Smith’s Nursery in 2015, focusing his efforts on the wholesale business and inventory side of the nursery. Smith’s Nursery is truly a family business with roots in decades of farming.


Smith’s Nursery recently opened a new store on site featuring farm-fresh produce, value-added goods, local meats and dairy, complete with an ice cream and coffee shack. Chris’s wife, Arlene (also referred to as the "Director of Fun"), provides innovative ideas to attract new customers through coordinating events and providing education through social media and farm tours.


Myron and Sarah’s daughter, Farris, can also be found helping customers in the store and filling orders when not teaching at Wake Tech. Myron and Sarah have two grandsons, Nolan and Charlie, who are enjoying farm life. They are also excited to welcome their first granddaughter in February.

 

RONNIE'S COUNTRY STORE


Our 2021 agribusiness honoree is the Ronnie Parker Family, owner of Ronnie’s Country Store nestled beside I-95 in Four Oaks.


Ronnie is the son of Coolidge and Julia May Parker. Ronnie grew up in the Blackmon’s Crossroads community, graduating from South Johnston High School in 1970. He soon joined the Navy where he served for four years prior to his start in farming.


In 1976, Ronnie began raising tobacco, soybeans, corn, cows, and hogs in addition to truck farming with Howard and Willie Hockaday. Ronnie and his wife Karen were married in February of 1982 and she has supported the family working in the medical profession with Horizon Family Medicine for many years. During this time, Ronnie got his start in the wholesale business.


On November 1, 1984 Ronnie opened his first two-bay service station in Four Oaks providing automotive services, gasoline, and tires. In time, the location was expanded as Ronnie began to offer tractor tires and purchased a service truck. Ronnie maintained the location for 12 years until I-95 road construction forced the location to close for demolition and make way for the current Exit 87 ramp.


In the early 2000s, Ronnie transitioned from a 4,000-square-foot facility to his current 9,600-square-foot storefront and 7,200-square-foot tire shop. The business now provides fuel from non-highway diesel to non-ethanol gasoline and tires for golf carts to tractors to implement tires. 

 

Ronnie’s Country Store is a cornerstone for area farmers and residents, carrying clothing, shoes, hats, knives, local specialty foods, hardware, garden supplies, hay, as well as groceries. Ronnie returned to farming when the new store was built and currently tends 50 acres of corn, melons, squash, cucumbers, onions, peas, and more. These items can be purchased from the store when in season. At all times of the year, however, you can find Hershey’s ice cream available. Ronnie was awarded the Gold Scoop Award, selling over 300 gallons of ice cream per week in the summertime.


As you can imagine, running a business requires much help. Ronnie has 20 employees, including full-time and part-time, in addition to the help of his two daughters Kasey and Kelly. Ronnie’s Country Store is a place where young people can benefit from the mentorship of Ronnie, learning a variety of agriculture and life skills. Ronnie’s business endeavors are far from over. Ronnie’s Lunch recently opened on October 4 in Downtown Four Oaks.



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