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Herbert Word is surrounded by history — history of the generations of family that preceded him as farmers on the picturesque rolling hills and bottom land he and his son, Herbert III (Trey), now farm in Monroe County, Miss., near Okolona. They now represent the fifth and sixth generations of their family who have farmed here.
Herbert Word is surrounded by history — history of the generations of family that preceded him as farmers on the picturesque rolling hills and bottom land he and his son, Herbert III (Trey), now farm in Monroe County, Miss., near Okolona.
With a raw north wind whipping through aged, fern-encrusted oak trees that frame a bottomland vista where cows graze in the distance, he points to the “home place” where his grandparents’ house once stood and where he grew up.
Back up the road a ways is the Word family cemetery, monuments stark against leaden not-quite-spring skies. Over yonder is where his father was among the first in the area with poultry houses, integrated hog parlors, and later a custom feed operation, complete with a snazzy mobile mixer truck. And in almost every direction are the homes and land of family members and relatives.
Everywhere in the landscape — in his shop building, in his storage sheds, and dotting the surrounding field and woods — is the accumulation of his own life in farming (and an admitted addiction to auctions): early era vehicles and a multitude of farm equipment from decades past, tools of every imaginable kind, spare parts galore, bins of nuts and bolts rivaling a hardware store, belts and hoses dangling from the ceiling, and on a table in the midst of it all, an incubator holding a couple dozen eggs from his free range hens that he’s hatching.
“I’m something of a hoarder,” he laughs. “When I moved on this hilltop years ago, there was nothing here but two old vehicles, and now, after 35 years of buying and trading, just look at all the stuff. Many times, I’ve asked myself, ‘Why did I do that?’ But, I just never get rid of anything — you never know when you may need it. I bought a combine identical to the one I use just so I could have it for parts.”
His “Old Country” ancestor, John Word, came to the U.S. from Wales in the 1600s, and his great-great grandfather, Samuel Word, settled here in Monroe County in 1839, coming from Virginia, with stop-offs in the Carolinas and north Alabama. His great-grandfather, William Word, fought as a captain in the Civil War, was shot in the head, lost pieces of his skull and parts of his brain — but miraculously survived the primitive surgery to extract the musket ball from inside his head, and lived into his 90s.
“My grandfather, Thomas Lawler Word, had beef cattle, but also raised hogs and milk cows, and grew everything that was needed for food for his family. He raised chickens and turkeys to sell — he’d haul live turkeys to Memphis and Birmingham for the holidays. He helped my father and uncle get started in dairying, beef cattle, and row cropping. He was also the one who named this place, Oakland Stock Farms, and we’ve kept the name.
“My uncle looked after the dairy and row crops and my father was one of the pioneers of poultry houses in this area and later had an integrated hog parlor operation. But he suffered from asthma, which was aggravated by the dust and dirt of farming, and he worked for years as the vocational rehabilitation director for Monroe County.
“Both my father and uncle went to Mississippi State University and later, when I began farming, I could look back and see how they had used the knowledge they acquired in school to make their farming operations more efficient.”