Mr. Willie Harrison - A Leader in Farming
A Leader in Conservation
From the Battle Field to the Streets of DC to Farming...A True Leader
Mr. Willie Harrison
Not many of us could imagine what it is like to live most of our professional lives with one hand on a trigger and our minds constantly focused on protecting ourselves and those around us. Mr. Willie Harrison knows all too well the dangers of fighting in war and protecting the streets of Washington, DC. The son of a sharecropper and raised in Dunbar, North Carolina, Willie grew up in agriculture but wanted to see the world. One of his first opportunities would come in 1965 while serving in the Marine Corps and fighting in Vietnam for two years. Upon leaving the armed services, he moved to Maryland and became a Washington, DC police officer. For 27 years, Willie protected the streets of the District, and he, his wife and two sons traveled the world.
Before retiring from the police force in 1995, Willie thought about the words his father taught him. “He told me, before you retire think about what you are going to do next–have a plan,” said Willie.
He had an interest in farming and coming back to North Carolina. “I wanted a hobby, and compared to being a police officer in DC–this is a hobby,” said Willie. “This is the first time in my life that I get up in the morning and go to work and no one is trying to kill me.”
Willie and his wife established a home and farm in Nash County. Originally interested in poultry production, Mr. Harrison quickly changed his plans and focused on hogs.
“It’s hard becoming a farmer on your own. You need to know everything before you start–the business of being a farmer,” said Willie. “I started talking to other farmers to learn about the business of being a farmer, found a producer willing to help teach me the business, and that is what helped me get started.”
Once he learned the business, Willie put all of his energy into the farm and he excelled. He has ten hog houses and about 9600 hogs at any given time. Not only has he thrived as a farmer, but also as a leader in conservation and as a mentor to other farmers.
“Soil and water quality is important for the farm and life–they are our backbone, and you cannot live without them. When you protect them you’ll be able to live off of them forever,” said Willie. “This is why I work with NRCS and the [Soil and Water Conservation] District, and they have been great.”
Independently, and with the technical and financial assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Soil and Water Conservation District, he has installed a dry stack, irrigation system, lagoon and a composter, all of which are part of his comprehensive natural resources conservation plan.
As oil prices were increasing, Willie felt it. “Oil prices got so high that I could not afford to burn dead hogs, and burning brought buzzards and impacted soil and water quality,” said Willie. “I heard about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program through NRCS and sat down with the folks in the office to talk or brainstorm about what I wanted to do. We started talking about the options to solve my problems and things started to happen.”
The solution to increasing oil costs and environmental concerns was a composter.
With a smile, Willie proudly stated, “I went from about $1,000 a month in diesel fuel to burn to about $5.00 a month in electricity to run a composter.”
Willie isn’t just conserving natural resources; he is also sharing his conservation knowledge with others.
“Technology is out there to do conservation, save money and run things better, but people don’t want to try it until they see if it works – I’m the type of person that will try it first and then show others that it will work on their farm.”
As a farmer and conservation mentor, Willie has shared his knowledge with others by hosting a field day on his farm to educate others on composters.
His demonstration led other farmers to develop a conservation plan, apply for Farm Bill programs and even get approved for composters.
Furthermore, Willie is helping to shape the face of conservation in the community by becoming the first minority on the Soil and Water District Board in Nash County, completing District Supervisor training, and serving on the Water Resource Committee for the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation District.
When asked what advice he would give others he simply says, “When you stop learning, you stop living, and there is always something new to learn.”
Mr. Willie Harrison is a husband, father, grandfather, US Veteran, retired police officer, farmer, district board member, conservationist, and a sagacious leader. For these reasons, NRCS and our partners are proud to be a small part of Mr. Willie Harrison’s success.