His wife Mary is a distinguished leader. She has been a local and state Extension advisor and served 17 years as a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor.

She has been active in a meals-on-wheels program of Brunswick Senior Resources, Cape Fear Resource Conservation and Development, Brunswick Community College Small Business Council and Wilmington District United Methodist Women. She led efforts to establish Brunswick County’s Voluntary Agricultural District, and their farm was the first one enrolled.

Mary has also been in the Daughters of the American Revolution and Colonial Dames. She received Extension’s Outstanding Farm Woman in Agriculture award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine honorary state title and was the first female member of the North Carolina Agribusiness Council.

She has also been a member of the North Carolina Ag Foundation, an ag advisor to Gov. Jim Hunt, and she attended USDA goodwill tours to Europe, Brazil and Argentina.

A breast cancer survivor, Mary began inviting school children to their farm 40 years ago. This “Life on the Farm” day continues at Funston Farms with help from Master Gardeners and Extension workers.

The farm has also hosted Wilmington’s Rotary Club, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and veterinary medicine students from North Carolina State University. “We’re proud of what we do,” says Mary. “We keep an attractive place, and we’re glad to have visitors.”

Wilbur and Mary have two sons, Dennis and Jeff. Dennis graduated from a two-year program at North Carolina State University and works for Duke Energy. Jeff majored in agricultural engineering at North Carolina State and now owns and runs Funston Farms. Jeff acquired the farm after Wilbur and Mary received advice from an estate planning expert.

Wilbur’s and Mary’s families both lost farms during the Great Depression. “My grandfather went from being a plantation owner to tenant farmer in one day,” says Wilbur.  The Earps are proud they were able to buy back some of this land.

Wilbur joined the Army during the Korean War and began farming after military service. Early in their marriage, Mary worked as a teacher, welfare worker and Extension agent. “It took both incomes to make ends meet,” recalls Wilbur. As the farm became established, Mary left her off-farm work. “I left a paying job for an unpaid job,” she says.

Today, Wilbur advises Jeff. “The first thing Jeff did was to hire Marc Green as farm manager,” says Wilbur. “Marc is like a family member and we hope to keep him for a long time.”

Audrey Brown, director of Field Services with North Carolina Farm Bureau, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Phil Ricks, a retired county Extension agent, nominated Earp for the award.