Pine Knot Farm spreads out on almost 125 acres in Orange County, NC. We have arrived at the Hughes' farm on a misty Sunday afternoon in late summer, near the end of the growing season. Stanley Hughes takes a rare moment off to sit down in a grey-blue easy chair. His 6-year-old daughter, Xandria, draws pictures with crayons at a small desk next to him. Later, as we tour the farm, she stays close to her father's side, showing us her pet rabbits and smiling for the camera.
We begin the tour, one of Stanley's neighbors, a quiet, somewhat stooped man smoking a cigarette, stops by for a crate of sweet potatoes. Stanley takes us across the bumpy dirt roads of the farm to a large, dim storage barn packed full of the brown-orange potatoes. He looks each over carefully before adding it to a cardboard box.
Nearby, metal-gray tobacco curers emit a constant whirring. Behind their heavy, rusting steel doors hangs row after row of flue-cured tobacco - slightly sweet, slightly acrid. This is where the heavy green tobacco leaves gain their familiar crinkled, brown appearance. Pine Knot Farm's organic tobacco, which grows on 3 to 6 acres of the farm each year, isn't sold to the public directly, but to the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company. The Hughes' farm also yields kale, soybeans, collard greens, and of course, sweet potatoes.
Hughes decided to start growing organic crops in large part because there is a much higher return for them. A family farm for three generations, Pine Knot's produce reaches customers at the Carrboro Farmers' Market and the Durham Food Co-op. He enjoys selling his produce at the markets. Stanley, who has always worked two jobs to support his family, is a strong advocate of local, community-supported farming. He explains how, in economic terms, farming has changed: "Back in the day we had anywhere from six to 12, 15 acres [of crops], that would [support] a whole family. But now...with a family you're just small time if you've got 20 acres. That's where organic helps me" because of the higher price each acre of organic crops can bring.
Stanley hopes to continue to diversify what his farm produces, perhaps adding livestock, though he continues to respect tobacco for its hardiness: "It can take a lot. You can almost have your crop destroyed and still make a crop."
—Heather Barnes, 2003