Rewarded for his hard work

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

CAPRON—Marvin Lewis Everett has been farming the dirt near Capron for most of his life.

His granddaddy did so. As did his daddy. In fact, Marvin, from his home along Brandy Pond Road north of Capron, can see the dirt path that leads to his home place.

What the 77-year-old Marvin doesn’t do so well these days is hear. And it bothers him. He says it makes him feel stupid, or worse, that it might make him look stupid to others. It bugs him. He feels compelled to apologize for a perceived shortcoming.

Marvin’s got hearing aids in both ears, which helps in some circumstances. But not always. On the telephone, in crowds, when many people are talking, it’s hard for Marvin to understand. And he hates it.

So when his grandson, Lewis — “who’s here with us at the farm,” Marvin said — stood at the podium of the 2007 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Chantilly last week, making some sort of speech, Marvin didn’t quite comprehend.

“Being hard of hearing,” Marvin said Saturday, “I said, ‘What in the world is he saying?’”

What Lewis, the grandson, was saying at that podium, to his grandfather and 800 or so others at the convention, was how Marvin was winning a statewide award, called the Warren Beach Award, given to a farmer who has shown “a keen interest in and support of younger producers.”

Marvin said he’s got a “soft spot in his heart” for young farmers, having been one himself back in the mid-1950s, and the words being said by his grandson that Everett did hear “brought tears to my eyes.”

The emotional banquet wasn’t quite complete, however.

When returning from the podium, Melvin saw his daughter, who was not expected to attend the convention.

“I thought, ‘How did she know about this award?,” he said. “I had no idea I was getting this.”

The family was, as it turns out, able to keep the presentation a secret.

The Warren Beach Award is named for a veteran Farm Bureau leader whose support of young farmers is legendary.

Everett is a past president of the Southampton County Farm Bureau and served for 17 years on the VFBF board of directors.

He also has served on the boards of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, the Virginia/Carolina Farmers’ Cooperative, the Southampton/Franklin Chamber of Commerce and his local soil and water conservation district. The Korean War veteran is past president of his local Ruritan Club and an active member of Joyner United Methodist Church. He is a founder of the Virginia Peanut Farmers Cooperative and a past president of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association. He also served on the Virginia Boll Weevil Foundation Board and on the J.R. Horsley Soil & Water Conservation Board.

“We are always impressed with Mr. Everett’s commitment to our program and agriculture across the state,” said committee chairman Scott Sink in a press release. “He has made a personal and professional pledge to the advancement of agriculture in Virginia and its role in our economy.”

The Beach award was placed at the top of one wall of his office, above all the others.

“I would say it’s the most important of all,” he said.

Everett was also honored during the convention with the Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau Award. During his farming days following the Korean War, He also started Everett Trucking Inc., a local transportation firm. In addition to representing Southeast Virginia Farm Bureau members on the VFBF board from 1990 to 2007, he is a past president of the Southampton County Farm Bureau.

“Marvin has been a role model for many Farm Bureau leaders over the years,” said Wayne F. Pryor, VFBF president, “but if you ask him, I’d bet he’d say he is most proud of how his family has followed him into farming. At one time or another all of his children have participated in the family farm operations.”

Everett got involved in the farm boards and committees when he returned from service in the military police. He said he saw a need for organizations in order to make changes.

“When I returned from the military in 1953,” he said, “I realized how much could be accomplished by working together.”

It was a different course from the one taken previously by the Everett family.

“I looked at my father and my grandfather and saw how they did things on their own.”

So Marvin got involved in groups, some of which got political, even staging protests in Washington, D.C., over farm prices.

“Two or three people can’t make a difference,” he said, “It takes hundreds or thousands to accomplish things.

“We had to go to Richmond, or Washington. We had to go wherever we needed to be.”

Part of last week’s award, for example, relates to Everett’s work in organizations. One key move he made was to push for the chairman of a youth group to become an active member of the state farm bureau.

But the thickness of Everett’s hands were formed working the land, not sitting in meetings. And farming has changed over the years beneath the Everett family house on the hill.

“I think it’s harder now than it was in the 50s when I started,” he said. Today, more equipment is needed, adding to expenses. Plus, the extra help is no longer practical.

“When I started, we had hand labor to work with crops — plenty of it,” he said. “Today, you have to do all the work with chemicals and machinery.”

And that machinery keeps changing with technology and a need for additional tools.

Everett started plowing fields using a mule. In fact, he said that experience was, in a way, educational.

A high school graduate, Everett never went to college, but makes a joke about a degree he’s “earned.”

Everett once gave a talk on agriculture to a group of insurance salesmen in Williamsburg and told the group he “was a graduate of Mule University.”

Following the speech, one member of the audience approached Everett and said, “I’ve been in education my whole life and I have to say, I’ve never heard of Mule University. Where is it?”

Everett looked at the man and politely answered, “You earn that when you walk behind a mule.”

Since mules came and went, tractors have gotten wider and more versatile, and will continue to do so.

“Eventually, there’s going to be eight-row” tractors, Everett said.

While the tools needed for farming are constantly changing, what’s being grown changes little over the years.

On the Everett farm, peanuts, cotton, soybeans, wheat and corn have been raised in various years.

“Peanuts were very prevalent and very profitable,” Everett said, until the 2002 farm bill stripped price supports. Cotton, too, was a staple until “the boll weevil got so bad we had to get out of the business in the 50s.”

Both, however, are making comebacks on local farms.

But farming is just one aspect of Everett’s life. Between the land and the organizations, there’s the Ruritan Club, the church and his family, which now includes great-grandchildren.

“When people question if there’s a God in heaven,” Everett said, ”I can’t help but believe there is, because there’s no way I could have done this by myself.”