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2012 Farm Family of the Year
Farming roots run deep for Ellis family
W 111612 LS FARM FAMILY 02
Grayson Ellis, center, is tickled as he takes the podium, along with son Marc and wife Becky, after his family is named the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee's 2012 Farm Family of the Year, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

    In the tiny community of Hopeulikit, surrounded by family farmland, catfish ponds and good neighbors, the Grayson Ellis family continues a way of life that has been passed down through generations.
    A farmer’s son of a farmer’s son of a farmer’s son, Ellis works the farm like his father before him, and does so with his sons, Benji and Marc, by his side.
    His wife, Becky, and their daughter, Tara, also embrace the farm life that has sustained their family for years. The partnerships between the family members, along with the success of their farming endeavors, are reasons the Ellis family was recently named 2012 Farm Family of the Year by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee.
    “I grew up on a farm,” Grayson Ellis said. His father, John Paul Ellis, also operated a grocery store in Hopeulikit — a bustling business in the “fork in the road” where U.S. highways 80 and 25 split — in the 1950s and 1960s.
    Ellis left the family farm when he entered the military after being drafted in the late 1960s. He fought in the Vietnam War. When he returned home, it was to farm.
    He said it was a life he knew and loved.
    The grocery store was booming, but “Daddy needed me on the farm full-time,” he said.
    Back then, the Ellis family raised a great deal of hogs, both brood sows and feeder pigs.
    “We also had soybeans and peanuts” among other crops such as corn, he said. “That was before cotton came back.”
    Cotton has returned as king of the South’s crops, but farming has made some major changes over the years, he said.
    While plowing fields was once the way to keep weeds away, now the problem is controlled by chemicals. Technology has arrived at the farm.
    “Now, we have all these high-tech computer systems” that control irrigation and other farming chores, Ellis said. “It makes it better for us, because it saves time and money, too.”
    Strip-tilling is another thing that has changed the face of farming. Instead of completely harrowing leftover debris from the last crop, farmers save time and energy now by using the strip-till method — planting crops among stubble from previous crops, which also helps conserve moisture and adds nutrients back into the soil.
    The Ellis family is no longer a major hog producer, and a brief venture in catfish farming has also fallen to the wayside.
    “The hog market dropped, and the catfish farming was good for the first two or three years,” he said. But when the price of feed rose, “it cut the bottom line out, and we couldn’t make any money at it.”
    No worries — there is plenty of other work on the farm to keep the Ellises busy. 
    “Every time I have a minute, there is always something else to do,” he said. The charm of the farm life is “you work for yourself. I’m the boss man now. It’s nice to be your own boss. It’s a hard life, but a good life, too. You have to take it all in stride, and I’ll farm as long as I can make a living at it.”
    Farming Ellis style means everyone gets involved. Tara is now a schoolteacher, but she did her share of work growing up on the family place. Marc and Benji still work alongside their father, making a living in the family tradition.
    Becky is a vital part of the glue that keeps it all together.
    Being a farm wife “takes a lot of dedication,” she said. “I cook lunch for the boys, and when I am in the field helping, I just pick something up. I do a lot of running, picking up parts, keeping books, packing cotton — wherever they need me.”
    During summer months, Becky Ellis “puts up” a lot of vegetables for the family to enjoy year round: corn, peas, squash, tomatoes and other things that appear in the family garden.
    “I can a lot,” she said. “We grow a lot of garden crops.”
    It’s a family affair, and “we enjoy it,” she said. “Without the Lord’s work, we couldn’t do it. It’s such a rewarding life. When you get that feeling when you plant something and look back when it’s grown and see what all you’ve done, it’s a rewarding feeling.”
    Becky and Grayson Ellis have been married 43 years, and she said she expects the farm life to continue and looks forward to seeing the family tradition passed down through her children to her grandchildren in the future.
    The family unity in working the farm is reflective of what makes a farm family successful and is likely a major contributing factor in the Ellises being named 2012 Farm Family of the Year.

    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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