July 2007
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Farming: “It’s Just In” Willie Boykin

 
Willie Boykin grew up on a farm in Barbour County. Now, in his 80s, Boykin can’t farm like he once did, but "it’s just in" him and he does what little he can. He is a small produce farmer that’s having a tough time "making anything much" without rain.  
By Jaine Treadwell

Willie Boykin fumbled through his "billfold" until he found the yellowed, creased piece of newspaper. He carefully unfolded it and a big ol’ grin lit up his face.

"Here it ‘tis," he said. "This is it. See here. This is what I did. I won the prize and fifty dollars. ‘The Best Butterbeans of the Day.’ That’s what I got."

There was no date on The Montgomery Advertiser photograph. Boykin thought it must have been about 1994 that he won the prize at the farmer’s market. The date didn’t matter at all to Boykin. It only mattered that he won and that he has something to show for it — a faded photograph that he has carried proudly since that day.

Willie Boykin is a farmer. He has been one all of his 80-something years, in his heart that is. But for a long time, he "had to work at something else."

During those years away from the farm, Boykin realized that farming was in his blood and would always be.

"And, I came back and I ain’t ever going back," he said. "No, sir. I ain’t gonna be no part of such."

Boykin was born in the house where he lives now. His dad died in that house.

"On Star Road in Barbour County," he said. "That’s where I was born and where I’m supposed to be."

Boykin didn’t have the chance to go to school very long. He had to work in the fields, picking cotton, hoeing peanuts, pulling corn and doing any other work on the farm that needed to be done.

"I’ve worked in the cotton field many a day for 50 cents," he said. "That was from sunup ‘til sundown. Backbreaking work but I had to do it."

Boykin thought he had found a way out of the cotton field that day in 1945 when he went to Fort Benning, GA, to be "examined." But he got deferred because he was a farmer.

"I rode the bus back to Clayton but I didn’t have a way to get home, so I walked the 13 miles back home. When I got home, my daddy said, ‘Boy, fork the corn cause you gonna need the work.’ I did what he said and I guess that he knew something then that I wouldn’t know until the time come.

"My daddy went to church on Sunday morning. When he come home he said that he didn’t feel good. He died on Monday in the house I was born in. The work had come to me," he said.

 
  Linda Faust is one of Willie Boykin’s regular customers when he brings his produce to Brundidge on Thursday mornings. He also sells in Union Springs and Clayton. Participating in farmer’s markets is the way that Boykin can do what he loves to do, farm.
Boykin knew how to do that work. He could plow a mule, plant corn, peanuts and cotton. He could plant cane patches, build sweet potato hills and make syrup. He could grow a vegetable garden and raise chickens and hogs. He could do anything on a farm that had to be done.

He did it and the more he did it the more it got in his blood. He just didn’t know it at the time.

When his brother came home from the Army, Boykin was ready to seek his fortune far from the farm.

"I went up North," he said. "I went to Detroit and got work in the Chrysler plant. I made good money or better than I made in the cotton field.

"I worked all over the plant. Did everything, even was an elevator operator.

"I worked up there but I just wanted to come back home. I reckon I missed the farm. It was just in me."

When he retired from Chrysler, Boykin came back home. Back to the house where he was born and the house where his daddy had died. He came back to the farm.

"Oh, I love to grow things," he said. "But I done got old now and I can’t do much. I plant what I can and I’ve got some help. Other folks grow things for me and I go out and sell ‘em – the little bit that I grow and what they grow for me.

"What I like is just being around what the Lord makes for us. We can plant anything but it’s the Lord that grows it. I know that."

Boykin takes his produce to markets in Union Springs, Clayton and Brundidge.

He laughingly said that he makes a little more than 50 cents a day but it’s not all about making money.

"It’s just being around farming," he said. "When I came back home in 1980, I could do a lot more than I can now. I’ve got old now and people keep asking me why I want to keep digging in the dirt trying to grow stuff.

"As dry as it has been this year, I’ve just been stirring up dust. But I tell ‘em that it’s in me. I can’t lay around doing nothing unless I’m real sick. The Lord didn’t make me that a-way.

"And, I hope He’ll let me keep doing a little bit of ‘farming’ all along. I pray that He will.

"I pray about a lot of things. That’s the first thing I do before I get out of bed in the morning and the last thing I do before I close my eyes at night. Sometimes I pray as I go along the road. I don’t go nowhere by myself, though. I carry Jesus with me."

Boykin said farmers live close to the land and they depend on the Lord.

"He brings the rain and He holds back the rain. And we have to trust in Him that things will be all right. When it looks like we can’t make it, He finds a way."

Boykin wiped the sweat from his eyes, looked up at the cloudless sky.

"It ain’t for us to question," he said. "Farming is just in me. I’ll do the best I can. That’s all any farmer can do."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.