Oxford, N.C., farmer Tommy Winston dreamed of being a baseball star and almost made it.

His second love is farming, and on that career he recently hit a home run when he was selected into the North Carolina Vegetable Growers Hall of Fame.

Winston played in the North Carolina Tobacco League as a high school phenom and later while attending college. “I got batters out with my curve ball and thought I had a pretty good fastball, but I guess it wasn’t quite good enough to play professional baseball,” he says.

In addition to his passion for baseball, Winston had a similar affection for farming. When he returned home from college in the early 1960s, he began farming full time at Valley Hill Farms in Oxford, N.C.

At one point he ran a large, highly diversified farming operation that included cattle, tobacco, grain crops and later in his career vegetables.

It was clear early on that tobacco was the money crop back in the 1960s and 1970s. At one point he grew several hundred acres of tobacco, but recognized earlier in the game than most that tobacco was going to come under fire from a health standpoint.

“About 20 years ago, I had a neighbor who grew tomatoes, and he convinced me to try a few acres of tomatoes,” the veteran North Carolina grower says. At one point he grew 25-30 acres of tomatoes, which he says, is comparable to growing a thousand acres of grain.

Getting involved in a big way in vegetables meant getting involved in a big way with the North Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. During his 20-plus years in the organization he has been a president and treasurer and was one of the primary founders of the association.

Recognizing his many years of service to the fruit and vegetable growers of North Carolina and the Southeast, Winston was inducted into the Hall of Fame during the recent annual meeting of the North Carolina and South Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Hall began in 2006. Last year Ira Cline, of Conover, was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Previous inductees include:  Kendall Hill, of Kinston, 2004; Carl Patterson, of China Grove, 2005; Leonard Small, of Edenton, 2006; Brent Jackson, of Autryville, 2007; Bobby Ham, of Snow Hill, 2008; and Jimmy Burch, of Faison, 2009.