People and Places with Pierce: NC’s Blacklands

blacklands

PONZER, N.C. (WNCT) – Some of the richest soil in the world is right here in the East, but few people know the struggles early farmers went through to successfully farm on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula.

“Very few people, even the people in these counties, really know the real story of what has happened out here in what we call the Blacklands,” said Joe Landino, co-author of the book North Carolina’s Blacklands Treasure which tells the stories of these pioneer farmers.

On the peninsula nestled between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, what was once viewed as a wasteland is now some of the richest soil in the country.

“The Blacklands are basically a high organic soil that exists in this region,” said Landino.

The road to transform this wasteland to productive farmland was paved by true pioneers. Many, including the Wade Hubers, still farm the Blacklands today.

“My parents moved here in 1958,” remembered Wade Hubers, owner of Matcha Pungo Farm near Ponzer. “I was 10 years old. It was very remote here when we moved in. We had to drive out 7 miles to the nearest phone. The clearing of the Blacklands back in the ‘50s and ‘60s was pretty primitive compared to what we have today. I sometimes wonder how they got it done, but they got it done with a lot of hard labor as kids. That was us.”

A big part of farming the Blacklands is the equipment. A half million dollar combine that can harvest 18 rows of corn at once is just one piece of vital equipment use here.

“This area is very poorly drained,” added Landino. “These black, organic soils were totally saturated so ordinary equipment, it was very difficult to go out there on these soils. It just buried them. It would sink.”

They quickly found that clearing and draining the land wouldn’t be enough.

“We started farming the land then we found out that we could grow corn 6, 7 foot tall but it wouldn’t have any ears on it,” said Landino.

“Nobody could figure out what was going on and we went back to Iowa that year for vacation. He brought back six bags of copper sulfate. The next year he put that on and we had a crop,” said Hubers.

“A lot of people failed,” added Landino.

But those who have made it have been very successful.

“ These farming operations in this part of the world are multi-million dollar operations,” added Landino.

Floyd Delbert Armstrong owns Delbert Armstrong Farms, not far from Hubers Matcha Pungo Farm.

“We started with about 1200 acres, and we just kept adding a little bit each year,” said Armstrong. “This is what it’s all about, having the family be involved.”

“It’s not just an easy path,” added Hubers. “No matter what it is, it takes grit. It takes failures. It takes success. It takes working together. That’s how farmers have gotten where we are.”

Working together… off the main path in North Carolina’s Blacklands treasure.

 

For more stories on the Blacklands, check out the North Carolina’s Blacklands Treasure book here.

 

We’re always looking for your story ideas for People & Places with Pierce. If you have an interesting person or place you’d like to see featured, email Pierce or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter.

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