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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.
Area farming changing
The face of farming in the area continues to change, he says.
“In the ‘70s, all the land around here was in crops or pastures, but over the years a lot has gone into CRP, and more and more people are building houses. The hills have gone back to pastures or hay, and the row crops that are left are in the bottomlands.
“When I was a kid, there were 60 or 70 dairies in this county, and there were five Grade A dairies and five Grade C dairies in this immediate area; now there is one lone dairy in the entire county. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there were seven or eight different people who farmed and lived in this immediate area; now Trey and I are the only farmers who live here.”
In addition to his farming and other interests, Word is president of Monroe County Farm Bureau and active in the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, just recently having participated in a legislative trip to Washington. He is treasurer of Wren Presbyterian Church and sings in the choir, and is president of Wren Volunteer Fire Department.
A favorite ongoing project is an old house, decorated with all manner of signs outside and mounted deer and elk heads and bric-a-brac of the years inside, that is used for family reunions and gatherings throughout the year. He has a brick pit outside, on which he can roast a whole hog, and inside there’s a commercial range for large scale cooking.
“We’ll have 100 to 150 people show up for our Fourth of July barbecue,” he says.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking and grilling, and I spent quite a bit of time a few years ago as grill master for 2Brothers BBQ Sauce, which was founded by two members of the Bryan meat packing family at nearby West Point, Miss.
“We did grilling demos all over and on the NASCAR circuit. That led to my working with celebrity TV chef Mario Batali on a NASCAR cookbook, Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style — there’s a full page color photo of me in the book.
“But that took a lot of time away from the farm, with Trey taking up the slack, so I eased out of that and came back to farming.”
His wife, Joanie, who recently retired from after a 28-year teaching career, “has been my helpmate,” he says, “and I couldn’t have made it without her all these years, or without all the time and work that Trey now puts into the operation, in addition to his off-farm jobs.”
In working auctions for a lot of farmers who were selling out, Word says, “I had the opportunity to pick the brains of a lot of FHA people and bankers, and that has worked to my advantage in dealing with them over the years. I hung in there and finally got out from under FHA, and for the last 10 years I haven’t borrowed a dime of operating money.
“One of the lessons that was drilled into us in Mississippi State football was that to win, you give it all you’ve got, you stick with it, and you don’t quit. And that has pretty much worked for me in farming.
“Long after I’m gone, I hope my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will still be on this land.”