From Novice to Notable: Small Farms Week Speaker to Share Story, Inspire Others

By Karen S. Green / 02/07/2024

Ronald Simmons, of Master Blend Family Farms in Kenansville, North Carolina, started his business in 2012, became N.C. A&T’s Small Farmer of the Year in 2018 and returns this year as keynote speaker for the week's luncheon event.

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 7, 2024) – When Ronald Simmons told his friends and coworkers he planned to become a farmer, “They fell off their chairs laughing and said ‘Dude, you’re crazy,’” Simmons recalled.

That was back in 2012 when he worked for Stallings of Kenansville, North Carolina, a farm supply and hardware company. Today, Simmons is president of Master Blend Family Farms LLC in Kenansville, producing pasture-raised pork that he sells to restaurants, high-end eateries and sports complexes across the eastern U.S. Master Blend also has a farm store and a mobile food truck that sells pork and other products made in North Carolina.

Needless to say, his friends aren’t laughing anymore.

“There’s no secret to it; it’s just consistency and hard work,” said Simmons of his farming success. “I work hard and stay dedicated to what we have to get done.”

Simmons will share his experiences and the lessons he’s learned in more than a decade of farming when he gives the keynote address at the upcoming Small Farmers’ Appreciation Event on Wednesday, March 27. The event is one of the highlights of Small Farms Week, the annual tribute to small-scale agriculture in North Carolina presented by Cooperative Extension at N.C. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Small Farms Week events kick off Monday, March 25, in Wayne County, where events include a farm tour of last year’s Small Farmers of the Year, J & J Martin Produce. On Tuesday, March 26, and Wednesday, March 27, events move to the N.C. A&T University Farm and include educational programs, panel discussions, tours and the naming of a new Small Farmer of the Year.

This year’s theme is “New Paths to Profits,” giving participants the opportunity to learn about subjects such as preserving wealth through family land holdings; transitioning into a “smart farm” enterprise and profitable organic practices. Plenty of experienced professionals will share their stories in a “Voices from the Field” session, and there will be a session on marketing opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers.

Join us for Small Farms Week 2024! Register online at https://bit.ly/3OtOpIA.

Dr. Rosalind Dale, left, claps behind a podium as Ronald Simmons accewpts his award as 2018 Small Farmer of the Year with an unidentified woman in the backgroundSimmons won the title of Small Farmer of the Year in 2018 not only because he is a successful small farmer, but because he is committed to helping other farmers, teaching youth about food production and agricultural careers, and working to diversify a sector that is rapidly aging and still predominantly white.

“The nation could be facing a food crisis,” he said. “The population of farmers is dwindling and there are more mouths to feed. I find myself hoping to inspire all farmers, so they reach out and inspire others. It’s a huge responsibility making sure everyone is getting fed.”

Simmons’ relationship with Extension at A&T began when he was a new farmer, first working with Amanda Hatcher (now Duplin County Extension director), and James Hartfield, the area small farms agent based in Duplin County. He got involved in risk management seminars and attended a leadership program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he met M. Ray McKinnie, Ph.D., now administrator of the Cooperative Extension program at N.C. A&T and associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

“What I absorbed from Dr. McKinnie was not just the idea of building a brand,” said Simmons. “He took me a step further. He gave me a lot of tips on how to be a proud farmer and how to carry yourself in everyday situations.”

In addition to his Small Farmer of the Year award, Simmons won the Duplin County Gold Star Award in 2018 in recognition of his contributions to the county. In 2021, he was named part of the inaugural class of Kingsford Charcoal’s Preserve the Pit Fellowship, a group that receives the tools, training, and mentorship to help continue the barbecue traditions of the Black community. He is a savvy businessman and marketer who teaches classes through the North Carolina Small Business Center Network, and he shares his enthusiasm for farming with young people through school visits and farm tours.

Simmons visits at least two schools or college campuses each year to give them insights into what’s happening in the industry, and uses social media regularly to extend his outreach.

“Kids may not want to hear me speak for 30 minutes, but they might like a cool photo I post or a video I add to our YouTube channel,” he said.

Today, no one is laughing at Simmons. He had a dream, he stuck with it and he is committed to sharing his story with other farmers in an effort to help them.

“My biggest pleasure is to sit with other farmers, hear their stories and figure out how I can get them the information that might be helpful to them,” he said.

Media Contact Information: llbernhardt@ncat.edu

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