ESTILL SPRINGS, Tenn. -- The Dixon family has reaped most of its living from the soil in Franklin County since the 1950s, years before 2012 Tennessee Farmer of the Year Steve Dixon was even born.
He now will vie for the Swisher Sweet/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year title at the Sunbelt Farm Expo in Moultrie, Ga., in October. But on Thursday, as Dixon stood in the sweltering July heat, he talked about what it takes to stay afloat in today's economy at a time when family farms seem few.
It's no one-man show, the Franklin County native said.
To make an operation like the Dixons' successful, "it takes the entire family," Dixon said with a nod of conviction as he gazed across fields of corn and hundreds of growing pots for this season's mums.
During the early years, the Dixon family -- now comprising grandparents King and Nancy; mom and dad Steve and Karen; two sons, Andrew and Philip, and a daughter, Stephanie Edwards -- farmed only feeder pigs and tobacco, with a few other simple row crops scattered in. But diversity and hard work is the name of the game for the family's farm operations now, Dixon said.
Depending on the season, the Dixons raise everything from honeybees, cattle and goats to soybeans, corn and winter squash, and each fall they open up the operation's Granddaddy's Farm -- the Dixons' "agri-tainment" enterprise -- to the public.
"Our deal's a little unique because I have my farm, but I farm with my father also. We pool our resources," Dixon said.
That teamwork is combined with varied crops, livestock and even niche-market items such as "squirrel corn" -- full ears of corn to feed squirrels -- to keep the operation producing a crop of cash, he said.
Such variety has kept the Dixons' farm chugging along for more than 60 years.
"Where we are is my grandfather's; this is truly 'Granddaddy's Farm' because this was my granddaddy's place," Dixon said with a gesture that takes in the spread's big red barn.
"When I got out of school (Franklin County High School Class of 1981) we were fooling with raising feeder pigs and growing tobacco," he said. "I got married in '84, and about a year later me and my wife bought another farm about 11 miles from here."
Pigs were still the heart of the operation, but a farm near "Granddaddy's" came up for sale, so Dixon and his wife decided to sell their first farm to move nearer to the home place.
In the years that followed, operations gradually shifted to row crops, and the Dixons further diversified by broadening crop varieties and incorporating tours and activities for schoolchildren, tourists and folks who want a taste of life on the farm, he said.
Steve and Karen Dixon's eldest son, 24-year-old Andrew Dixon, oversees fall activities at Granddaddy's Farm alongside his mother.
Steve Dixon was nominated for the Farmer of the Year honors by University of Tennessee area farm management specialist Dallas Manning, who is quick to point out Dixon's management skills and commitment to give back to his community.
For Steve Dixon, there's nothing better than the farm life for a rural family.
"I've never worked a public job in my life. But it's taken everybody to get where we're at. It's taken the whole family."
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