about the organic farmer
Randall Watkins, Jr. is a third generation organic farmer in Granville County, North Carolina. Like many North Carolina farmers, Randall’s grandfather grew tobacco in 1950 until Randall began to transition some of land into organic vegetable production. Because sweet potatoes love North Carolina’s soil and climate, Randall decided to focus on growing organic sweet potatoes. In 2015, he started with 10 acres of organic sweet potatoes and now grows 120 acres of organic sweet potatoes.
In 2018, Randall became the youngest Happy Dirt farmer-owner. And in 2021, he became the first organic sweet potato farmer in the U.S. and the first farmer in North Carolina to become Fair Food Certified. As the farmer population continues to age out, we need more young farmers like Randall Watkins who will not only keep farming alive, but who will help lead the way in creating a more sustainable food system.
"the dirt taught me where my food comes from."
Why did you decide to become a farmer?
My daddy wanted me to go to N.C. State, but school just wasn’t for me. I chose to work on the farm and to learn. I wasn’t scared to learn. I was out in the dirt learning something. The dirt taught me where my food comes from.
What are some great things about being farmer and what are some challenges?
I guess the great thing is that you’re kind of your own boss at times. Not always because you always have someone who is paying you. You can work at your own pace most times. But, the downfall is that most the time you have to be here. You can’t leave when you want to, and you don’t get off Friday at five and just go. You always have to be around the crop is growing.
"don't be scared to work on something. if it's already broke, what can you mess up?"
Your organic sweet potato production has really grown since 2013 and you’ve added some specialty organic sweet potatoes. What does sweet potato harvest look like? Is it an all-day operation?
Oh, yes. We start in the morning and end at night. Whatever you plow that day, you have to pick up. You can’t leave them overnight. I mean you can leave them over night if the weather isn’t bad, but it’s better if you don’t. But everything we plow, we try to get up that day. With sweet potatoes, you have to pick up every one by hand after you plow the field. They make some machines that do it, but the problem is that they skin the potatoes too bad.
Do you have any farmer-wisdom to share?
We had a tractor go down last fall (2021) while we were planting broccoli and cabbage one fall. It messed up. Well it went down while we were planting the broccoli and the cabbage last year. It messed up. Well, I took it to the dealership and it was probably going to run around $20,000 to $25,000 to fix it. And I’m like, “Well, is the tractor really worth much more?”
So, we bring it in, take it apart, pull it all the way down, and put it back together. And, it’s run every day this year. You know, and that’s one thing that, well, my granddaddy always taught my daddy, and my daddy’s always taught me. He says, “Don’t be scared to work on something. I mean if it’s already broke, what can you mess up?”
what they grow (organic)
Covington Sweet Potatoes
Garnet Sweet Potatoes
Murasaki Sweet Potatoes
Purple Sweet Potatoes