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News Release

Lee County Farmer Honors Great Grandfather’s Conservation Ethic

By Amy Overstreet, SC USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Public Affairs Specialist
 

Lori_Hallie
Mrs. Robinson, left, and NRCS’ Lori Bataller,
survey the growth of produce in the high tunnel.

Mrs. Hallie Robinson, of Lee County, SC, is a small farmer with an enormous amount of energy, excitement, and ingenuity. She and her husband William farm three acres of vegetables, and raise ducks, geese, goats, and cows. They have been married for thirty-four years, and moved to the farm in 1979. As one of fifteen children, Mrs. Robinson watched her great-grandfather, Joe Jenkins, work this same land, and her ties to this land are unbreakable. She was inspired by her great-grandfather’s dedication and passion for farming, and she has poured her heart and soul into continuing the conservation ethic which he instilled within her. She has worked with her local USDA-NRCS District Conservationist, Lori Bataller, as well as NRCS Soil Conservation Technicians Larry Garner and Rich Williamson, to erect a seasonal high tunnel through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). “This conservation practice helps farmers extend their growing season and can improve plant quality, soil health, and reduce nutrient and pesticide transportation,” said Bataller. Mrs. Robinson says the high tunnel symbolizes her past, and the legacy her great-grandfather started, as well as the future, and what she hopes to do on the farm. “I am using what he taught me and taking it to a new level with this high tunnel.” 

Mrs. Robinson speaks of her great-grandfather as a hero. “He had limited education and could not read or write, but he had wit and wisdom,” she explains. “He provided a living for his family by working as a sharecropper and he saved his wages to buy farming equipment and buy this farm.” She describes him as a pioneer when it came to farming, and

Hallie_GGdad
Joe Jenkins, great-grandfather of Hallie
Robinson, of Lee County, SC, inspired her
to carry on a tradition of conservation
farming.

proudly displays his old plow up against the high tunnel. “That plow is a good reminder of how hard it must have been breaking new ground to provide a living for his family,” says Robinson. “For many years, I planted as he did; starting in January and ending in October.” One day she read an article about extending the growing season, and was introduced to high tunnels. “I felt that if my great-grandfather had known about this, he would have seized the opportunity to use this as a way to extend his season too.” 

She called her local NRCS office, and applied for cost-share through EQIP. High tunnels are made of ribs of metal pipe and covered with plastic sheeting. They are easy to build, maintain, and move. The 2,160 square foot (32 feet X 72 feet) plastic covered structure results in warmer production environment during late fall, winter, and early spring. They are a significant advantage to owners of small farms, limited resource farmers, and organic producers, because they offer the advantage of year-round crop production, particularly in the relatively mild climate of South Carolina. High tunnels can also provide protection from wind and rain, which can result in increased crop yields and improved quality as well as decreased pest and disease problems. 

Mrs. Robinson was pleased that the high tunnel enabled her to have crops in the ground this winter during a rare snow and ice event in South Carolina. The Robinson’s share their produce with friends and family, and enjoy having access to fresh fruits and vegetables year round for themselves. “Eating fresh vegetables all year is a blessing!” she exclaims. She also says the maintenance of the tunnel is very easy. 
 

Hallie_plow
The plow that Mrs. Robinson’s great-grandfather used to
prepare the land is an inspiration to her, and a reminder of
how hard he worked to provide
for his family.

Mrs. Robinson’s great-grandfather farmed until 1960, and passed away years ago, at the age of ninety, but his presence, and his lasting influence, can be felt on the farm. “I hope that the next generation will continue his legacy, and maybe do something different or improve things, like I’m trying to do here.”  Now, Mrs. Robinson is working on a book to tell the story of her family, and particularly her great-grandfather, who taught her to farm, to love the land, and how to care for it. She even has an entire photo album which documents the raising of the high tunnel, from start to finish. She loves to show visitors the fruits of her labors inside the tunnel, which is teeming with an abundance and diversity of crops, including watermelons, herbs, cucumbers, peppers, sunflowers, and more. “I could never get my stuff this green, or grow it this big, without the high tunnel!” she exclaims. “I look forward to many years of fresh vegetables.”  Bataller says that Mrs. Robinson has been a joy to work with. “It’s rewarding to provide assistance to someone who is really dedicated to protecting soil and water quality, and to stewardship.”  For more information about EQIP or high tunnels, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov