Sharon Angell holds greenhouse trays in the greenhouse on the farm, where 500,000 tobacco plants are grown.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
By JOEL TURNER - Staff Writer
For a half-century, Sharon Angell has plowed the soil, drove tractors, planted tobacco, chopped tobacco, primed tobacco, planted trees and flowers, and did a thousand other jobs on a Franklin County farm.
As a child during the 1950s, she learned that farm work is hard and lasts from sunup to sundown each day, and often into the late night hours.
She fell in love with the rural farm life and never wanted to leave.
Today, Angell is 58, and she still lives on a farm in the Potters Creek section of Franklin County near Penhook, where she grew up.
Angell lives with her husband, Johnny, on a farm with nearly 1,000 acres where they grow as much as 80 acres of flue-cured tobacco in some years. They also grow burley tobacco in some years. The couple has one of the largest tobacco farms in Franklin County.
The Angells also grow timber, flowers, grain for wildlife and other farm products. In recent years, the couple has even started growing shrimp in six ponds on their farm.
Johnny and Sharon, 1972 graduates of Franklin County High School, have been married for almost 40 years. They have farmed together ever since they were married. The couple has no children. The love of their lives is each other, and the rural lifestyle on the farm.
"I've been here all my life and I don't look to go anywhere else," Sharon said. "I don't feel at home anywhere else."
Sharon was named 2011 Franklin County Farmer of the Year by the Franklin County Retail Merchants Association as part of its annual Farmers Appreciation Day. She is the first female Farmer of the Year in Franklin County.
Sharon manages and helps with the work on the 1,000-acre farm now that her husband is disabled. Johnny is the first to say that Sharon richly deserves the Farmer of the Year award.
"I'd be completely lost without Sharon," he said. "I take all the credit and Sharon does all the work. That's about the size of it."
For the Angells, tobacco pays the bills, but the couple also manages cropland, loblolly pine trees, white pines and hardwood timber. They also also manage and help care for wildlife on their land. They plant sunflowers, shrub and other plants.
The farm has all kinds of birds and wildlife, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, turkeys, beavers, quail, raccoons, and even bears.
The Angells' work ethic is stewardship and conservation of the land and timber. They enjoy the beauty of watching trees and wildlife grow, managing and enjoying their land.
"There's no reason that you can't have a better crop of timber down the road than what you have harvested today," he said. "Our property is managed for a timber crop, but also the beauty of watching the trees and the wildlife grow."
"When I was younger, I wanted to see what I could make off the land. Now, I want to see what I can conserve, not how much money I can make off it," he added.
Johnny jokes that he would like to take his farm with him when he dies.
"When my life here is done, I hope this farm is taken over by someone who loves it as much as I do," he said.
Johnny grew up in Callaway, where his father had a sawmilling operation. He is the brother of Wayne Angell, a longtime member of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
Although he enjoyed the sawmill operation, Johnny and Sharon assumed responsibility for her father's tobacco farm on Potters Creek Road after they were married in 1973.
Now that Johnny is disabled, Sharon has family members and Mexican workers to help her with the tobacco crop each year. She manages all aspects of the operation, from growing 500,000 tobacco plants in a greenhouse on the farm to harvesting the crop to selling it to tobacco companies.
"Sharon does everything on the farm, from working in the fields with a tractor to helping manage it all," Johnny said.
In recent years, Johnny and Sharon have gotten into growing Malaysian freshwater shrimp in six ponds on their farm. His experiment with growing shrimp has attracted attention in Virginia farm circles.
He said that growing shrimp is an economic diversification to allow Sharon and him to continue living a rural lifestyle.
Along with the shrimp, the Angells have tried another new crop in recent years. Before that, they had grown only flue-cured tobacco. But they recently built a barn exclusively for curing burley tobacco.
The Angells are getting ready to begin the yearly farm cycle again and the planting of a new tobacco crop this spring.
Sharon will supervise the growing of 500,000 tobacco plants in the greenhouse on the farm. By early May, the tobacco plants will be large enough to be transplanted to the fields, and another tobacco crop will begin to grow.
After 50 years on the farm, Sharon and Johnny Angell have never tired of the farming lifestyle.