His grandfather purchased the 125-acre Pine Knot Farm in Orange County in 1912. His father and uncles farmed tobacco for years, and now he is the only one in the family left farming, although other family members still live on the property, which is now split between them.
“As a child, I helped raise hogs, cows and chickens and grow large vegetable gardens,” Hughes recalled. “My father grew tobacco to pay the bills, while everything else fed the family.”
He began farming on his own in 1975 and for many years worked full time while growing tobacco on the side. “You name it, I did it,” Hughes said. In the mid-1990s, he became one of the first organic tobacco producers in the state, then diversified into organic sweet potatoes, collards and kale. He now also has organic broccoli, string beans, watermelon, corn and squash. You can find Hughes at the Durham Farmers Market. In 2004, he was named the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s Farmer of the Year, and in 2012, he was named the Carolina Farm Stewardship Farmer of the Year. His collard greens have been featured in Gourmet magazine and his sweet potatoes in The New York Times.
Continuing the family farm hasn’t been easy. His older daughter lives in Charlotte and owns a successful daycare business, and his younger is still in school and hasn’t decided what path she’ll take. However, Hughes is continuing to farm for now.
When asked how he feels to be a century farmer, he humbly replied, “I feel lucky.” Of his many accomplishments, he said raising tobacco is what made him the proudest. He reminisced about the days spent at the tobacco market. “I liked being there with the people, socializing,” he said. “Now you just drop your crop at the door and leave.”
Check out this video of the Pine Knot Farms, part of an oral history project documenting the Carrboro Farmers Market by Southern Foodways Alliance: