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• As a result of his accomplishments as a chicken grower and as a diversified farmer, Gary Blake has been selected as the North Carolina winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
“One of them was open 24 hours per day, where I had 16 employees.” He saved enough to buy a 177-acre farm, but later sold it to help pay for the farm in Wilkes County where he now lives.
On his farm, Blake essentially acts as a chief executive officer, while other family members manage key components.
Gary and Lorene have two sons. Their older son Rodney works off the farm at Wilkes Telecommunications and as a Baptist preacher. Rodney has a son and daughter who occasionally help out on the farm.
Gary and Lorene’s younger son Chad has an agriculture degree from North Carolina State University and has worked on the farm since 1987. Chad helps Gary manage the pullets.
Chad’s wife Brenda handles the farm’s bookkeeping and manages the family’s vegetable operation. She grows sweet corn, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons, okra and green beans to sell at local farmers markets. When the greenhouses are not being used to grow tobacco for transplanting, she uses the greenhouses to raise vegetables.
Chad and Brenda have four sons. Their older sons, Heath and Tyler, are married and both work on the farm. They are primarily responsible for the broilers. Their two younger sons, Seth and Luke, also help out on the farm when they are not being home-schooled by Brenda.
Heath repairs and maintains diesel equipment for the family’s Blake Systems sideline business. “This generates income for the family when we don’t have crops in the field,” says Gary. Tyler and Chad also take on small construction jobs such as building porches. “My family built my house and Chad and Brenda’s home,” adds Gary. “Providing our own labor meant we could build our homes at cost, with no mortgages, so we could continue to invest in the farming operation.”
Another small sideline business involves selling and spreading chicken litter. Gary sells some litter for about $15 per ton. But for high volume buyers, he will sell the litter and shavings from an entire chicken house for $1,500.
“The chickens in both our pullet houses and our broiler houses produce dry litter,” Gary explains. “When we apply litter on our own land, we follow a comprehensive nutrient management plan that limits the amount of litter we can apply based on its phosphorus content.”
Gary also finds time to give back to his community. He sits on the board that nominates farmers for the Hall of Fame in the Wilkes Heritage Museum. He is on the Wilkes County Farm Bureau board and on the local Agricultural District board. He also chairs the board for a community center building. He has been a voting precinct chairman, a candidate for the county commission and is active in the Masons.
He served in the National Guard from 1956 until 1964. He is a member of the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association. His farm has also been recognized on the state and national levels for its soil and water conservation and environmental stewardship.
Gary and Lorene are members of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church. Lorene has also served as secretary/treasurer of Southeast Wilkes Community Building. She has also been a hospital volunteer and a voting delegate at North Carolina Farm Bureau state conventions.
Ken Powell with North Carolina Farm Bureau is the state coordinator of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Gary was nominated for the award by his daughter-in-law Brenda.