When they were informed that they were being honored as the 2004 Conservation Farmers of the Year by the Switzerland County Soil and Water District, Danny and Kathy Covington couldn’t help but laugh.
The couple has 40 acres of land near Fairview on State Road 250 — and Danny Covington says that he’s a little overwhelmed at receiving an honor for farming.
But the farming that the Covingtons do may well be the future of agriculture in Switzerland County.
“We are involved in raising more specialty crops,” Danny Covington says. “We grow strawberries in the spring and pumpkins and other fall decorative items in the fall. It’s sort of like raising a really big garden to us. There’s no soy beans or wheat or crops like that.”
But what the Covingtons are working on is the development of and the marketing of specialty crops that are designed to help develop ag tourism in rural areas such as Switzerland County.
More and more urban families are taking day trips into the country looking for fresh fruits and vegetables rather than purchasing them in large supermarkets. Danny Covington says that if the area is marketed correctly, people will drive to Switzerland County and make their purchases.
Once here they may also stop in a local restaurant or buy gas at a local station — making it that much better for all merchants in the county.
“We raise about 2 1/2 acres of strawberries in the spring and eight acres of pumpkins in the fall,” Danny Covington says. “We try and sell as much locally as we can.”
“When the strawberries are becoming ripe, you have to move them quickly,” Kathy Covington says. “At that point we wholesale some of them, but we try and not do too much of that. We usually have a pretty heavy demand here, so we try and take care of our customers.”
Danny Covington says that they try and pick the strawberries, but the heavy demand also gives them the option of hiring extra labor — but with 8,000 quarts of strawberries and 3,000 pumpkins, that extra labor is needed to meet the needs of the customers.
“With the fall products, we also have a lot of miniature stuff that we sell along with the larger pumpkins,” Kathy Covington says. “We grow Indian corn, mini pumpkins, gourds, things that people want to use for decoration around the home.”
Last year the Covingtons expanded their business to begin the marketing of tomatoes; and will continue to deal in the more specialized agriculture markets.
“In today’s market, you have to be there full time to raise corn and beans,” Danny Covington said. “That makes it pretty hard. The marketing is 90-percent of any of this, but you have to be on top of corn and beans. Those guys who farm full time, that’s a tough life. There’s no secure income there.”
Danny Covington works at Dow Corning in Carrollton full time, so he leaves much of the day-to-day coordination of the specialty crop business to Kathy.
She can handle it, growing up on the Bennington Pike farm of her parents, Bill and Wanda Christman. Danny is also a native Switzerland Countian, growing up for awhile near Allensville before moving to the East Enterprise area.
For their work on their farm, Danny and Kathy Covington say that much of the work is very manual, since there’s not a lot of automated machinery designed to harvest the types of crops that they raise.
They’ve lived at their present location for about nine years; having moved from a 70-acres farm on Nell Lee Road to give them better road frontage to market their items to customers who may be driving by.
“The highway gives us good exposure,” Kathy Covington says. “That’s good for our business, it helps with the marketing.”
With all of the different items that the Covingtons raise, they may be most proud of their two daughters, Lisa and Lesley.
“Both of them have their masters degrees in public health,” Danny Covington states proudly.
That’s a lot of strawberries.
“Yes it is,” he says with a laugh. “Paying for that took a lot of strawberries.”