The Lure of Pecan Farming
Story and Photos by Crissy Neville
He had me at pecans.
When contemplating an agricultural enterprise of our own, my husband Thomas and I considered all the options. We lived in Fayetteville then, and my family farm in Linden was in the wrong direction, 15 minutes out of town. We had three small kids that kept us running the road between ballet, soccer and church group; I was a preschool teacher who did most of the fielding for our daughters’ activities, while Thomas, a textile supervisor, was the pinch hitter and fan favorite of the three for his wrestling matches, giggle fests and crazy sense of humor. My “let’s make cookies,” and sad attempts at playing Barbies could hardly compete. He always sang lead to my backup chorus — and still does to this day.
Still, it was my idea to make the fourth-generation farm I inherited into something we might manage ourselves, at least a small parcel of it. In sharing the land with my siblings, most of the acreage was in row crops rented to a local farmer with timber grown for our one-day retirement. But here in the present day, I wanted a tangible way for my daughters to learn to work and see the fruits — or nuts, in this case — of their labor. With a nickname like “farm girl,” was I really one if I didn’t farm something myself?
So, we considered the choices. We did not live on the farm — yet — so what could we grow or raise without a daily presence or a heck of a lot of equipment? Cattle? Nope. Hay? Nada. The laundry list of fruits, vegetables and livestock was hung out to dry until pecans cracked the stalemate — and stuck.
I grew up picking pecans in the yard, eating my mother’s deliciously simple pecan pies, and as for Thomas, ditto. We sold pecans at my father’s Linden store, M.J. Lucas Gas & Grocery, open for 50-some years. Daddy grew traditional Stuart varieties but once ordered about 500 saplings from Sears & Roebuck and Co. to make a go of an orchard. Planted in the back fields, those trees never had a chance. Yet, the prolific yard pecan trees were quintessential to my childhood and that of nearly every Southern family I know as sweet tea and the old backyard swing hanging from a low-lying limb.
So. what’s one to do? Well, pick the low-hanging fruit, of course, plant 100 trees and put a shingle on the roadside: Little River Pecan Farm. A move to the homeplace and change of careers are the rest of the story, but the pecans we pick in the fall have added special volumes to the book that is my life. One that is still being written.