Charles Fugate is a living testimony of how the love of the land - along with the support and well-spent time with family and friends - can complete and fulfill your life.
Fugate was selected as the Virginia Forage Producer of the Year at the Virginia Forage Producer and Grassland Council 2012 Winter Forage Conference in Wytheville. Yet, he is quick to point out that he's hesitant to discuss this honor because it was only possible with the assistance of other individuals who have passed along information to him over the years. Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's natural resources conservation service and Virginia co-op extension agent Scott Jerrell have assisted him, along with area farmers.
Fugate points out that farmers in the community support and help each other and “the more tractors in the field, the better the outcome.”
“I don’t claim to be a good farmer considering farming is a puzzling business. Two farmers can have the same type of land, equipment, cattle and crop, but not receive consistent results. But unfortunately, people don’t always see farming as a business. If you operate a corner store, you get more respect as opposed to being a farmer at times,” said Fugate.
The farm Fugate lives and works on has been in his family since 1814. He was born in the house across the street from where he currently resides and has been involved in some aspect of farm work as long as he can remember. The original family home, along with the slaves quarters, are still on the property. Part of the original rock wall is still standing alongside the road throughout his land and around the homestead.
Before he returned to reside on the family property, the farmland was rented out, but Fugate was anxious to return to the land and devote more time to his farming passion.
He worked in a variety of jobs over the years and has been a business owner, while also earning his master's degree in business administration from Appalachian State. While others retire and relax, Fugate still stays busy and keeps himself on a structured schedule every day. His early day starts with driving a school bus then returning to start the farm duties. He takes a break in the afternoon to drive the school bus after school, and then returns to the farm and works until nightfall, unless his granddaughter, Ana, has a sports activity that evening.
“Lunch is optional some days with so much work to be done around the farm. I may grab a Coke, nabs and moon pie to get me through the day, but I enjoy staying busy and on a schedule,” said Fugate.
While the rolling 560-acre farm is a beautiful landscape, it has plenty of farming challenges. One obstacle to overcome is the rocky terrain. Fencing the land is almost impossible at times because of how close the rock is to the surface over much of the land. He solved the problem by bolting the posts to concrete bases.
Fugate admits to loving the challenges of farming because it gives him a reason to come up with inventive ideas.
“I’m proud of my shop building and I enjoy making gadgets to get the job done. I can go into a tool store and spend hours looking around,” laughs Fugate, with his wife, Ann, nodding in agreement.
Karst soils and large sinkholes also present issues on his property, along with a large network of underground caves spread across the farm. The water fills up the caves and will come up through the ground surface. Fugate’s property also has a collection of fossils which he enjoys collecting and researching.
While the farm has focused on tobacco and cattle in the past, the concentration is now solely on cattle. The majority of the beef cattle are Angus and/or Angus crossed with Charolais and Hereford.
As to the future, he hopes to see the farm continue to grow and thrive over the years - all the while remaining in the family. Charles and Ann’s daughter, Christy Smith, an agronomist and certified nutrient management planner of Cape Charles, Va., nominated her father for the award.
The Fugate family has been active in the Southwest Virginia community for many years, and it was pride for the entire farming community that led Charles Fugate to receive the recent honor for his family farm.
Fresh from the Farm is a weekly summer series featuring farmers and producers from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. To suggest a local farmer or producer, email Sunday Stories' editor Carmen Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org.