Born and raised in Forsyth County, Vern Switzer spent 15 years in New York working as a truck driver until one day he walked out onto a piece of farm land that called him home to North Carolina. To this day, Vern still falls asleep dreaming about farming, and wakes up every morning excited to get out into the field.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you provide a brief introduction? Tell me more about yourself and your business.
Vern: I’m a local farmer here in Rural Hall, North Carolina. Farming is my life, it’s not farming by my hands or by my mind, but it’s farming by my heart. I thrive on just farming each and every day.
I told my wife just a couple of weeks ago that I’d been out there talking to her wife in law. She said, “What wife-in-law?” I say, “Well, you know I got another wife right across the street and that’s the farm. I spend just about as much time with her as I spend with you.”
Main products? I know you grow A LOT…
Vern: That’s one of my biggest downfalls I guess because I want to grow something of everything. To me, it’s not just growing watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and squash but I also want to grow tomatoes, and peppers and green beans, peas, I could just go on and on with what I want to grow.
You mention watermelons, I know you have a special appreciation for watermelons. You’re not only a farmer but you’re also a children book’s author, correct?
Vern: Oh yes. It came to me one morning, half sleep, half awake, about writing a children’s book. I had no idea about writing a children’s book, had no knowledge of what to do and how to do it. But I am so glad that I know a Savior that knows everything about everything. Through that listening and being obedient, I was able to write a book. He gave me the title, every word, not out of my mouth but out of his mouth, how to write the book, who to see, how to publish it, how to get the money, everything. The first book was called “Puffy the Watermelon.” The two greatest things in this world is children and watermelon. So I wrote about how a little boy, named after myself, Vern, and that book is a manual just to raise a watermelon, if you read the story it’ll tell you step by step.
Which are you more proud of the fact that you’re a farmer or an author?
Vern: I’m a farmer first, I’m a farmer foremost. I’m a farmer in my heart, I was born a farmer, I was bred a farmer, and God allow me I’ll die a farmer. It’s just in my blood. It’s just my life.
I know you’re concerned about the average age of a farmer rising, seems that it’s no coincidence that you wrote a book about farming meant for younger children…
Vern: You must get farming instilled in children, you can’t start too early. If you raise children to do little things on the farm it will instill in them to be able to get that love for nature, the love for God’s creations, and it will grow up in them.
A lot of times when they get big enough they want to pull away from the farming part, but there’s something that one day will click and will draw them back to where they first learned how to bring string beans, or learned how to go out there and find a nice ripe tomato, or learn how to just pull off a cucumber and start eating a raw cucumber. I tell ya, if children learn how to eat raw fruits and vegetables it makes all the difference in the world. If you train them with french fries, that’s what they’re going to love.
Obviously your love for farming shines through, what’s the hardest part of farming for you?
Vern: Finding help. I’m only one person, I can’t do it all by myself. I got the will but just don’t have the strength to do all that I used to do. Working easy and weak jobs will make you just that, but if you work a hard and a strong job it will make you a hard and strong person. In this life, you need to be hard and strong, because only the strong survive.
That’s an excellent testament to the importance of farming, what would you say to urge the community to buy locally grown food?
Vern: It can’t get any fresher than local. If a farmer grows it like myself, I also eat it. And the economical part of that, it stays in the neighborhood. When you buy a farmer’s product, you’re not just buying his product, you’re encouraging that farmer to keep farming, to do a job that you don’t have a desire to do. I’ve guess I’ve given probably 1,000 young people their first job. Most of them will tell you that I’m hard, and I am. Because I’m hard on me, I believe in doing things right and I believe in doing the best you can, there’s not a second best.
What have you sold to Winston Salem State and A&T?
Vern: Watermelons normally, tomatoes. They had a farmers market over there a couple of times. I used to, and I wish it would come back, I used to raise watermelons for the football team. When Coach Hayes was there he would make sure that he would get his watermelons from me for the football team at Winston Salem State and they looked forward to that every year. Those young boys coming from all over the country, I would be out there cutting the watermelons for them, they’d enjoy local grown watermelons from a local farmer.
How do you support these students in educational ways?
Vern: I’ve been to probably about five or six different classes to A&T University and I taught on farming. I think that’s one of the biggest things you need to do, to let a class see what it takes to really be encouraged to farm. I taught on several occasions about the economical part of farming, that’s what young people want to know about. They love the farming but the most important part, they want to know about how much finance is in it. There’s a lot of things on the farm that you can sink your teeth into, the economical part of it is real. And that’s what encourages children. Once they can see the finances, then you can talk about the work structure.
Why did you want to support farm to university programming? Why did you want to start selling to universities?
Vern: If we can get our youth encouraged, I’m not talking about the whole university or the whole class, but if you get one excited, that’s one more than what you got now. That’s what I base it on, one at a time. If I can get even just one student to see the heart of farming, to pick up a shovel, then it’s made all the difference in the world.
Why is it important for universities to support local farmers?
Vern: It’s important for local universities to be able to buy from local farmers to encourage local farmers to keep raising crops. That’s the first line of teaching right there. Support your local farmer, get them to come in and talk to your students. You see everything on the news, but very rarely do you see local farmers. How many farmers have you ever seen on a talk show? How many farmers have you ever seen on a cook show? When you grow it, you know it!
Vern’s Farm is located at 6538 Germanton Road in Rural Hall. You can also meet Vern and buy his products on Saturdays at the Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market (www.gsofarmersmarket.org).