Jason Womack, Tifton, Georgia
“Once the dirt gets under your nails, it’s hard to get it out.”
Tifton area farmer Jason Womack clearly has a love for working the land that is deeply rooted in a faith in God and several generations of family farming. The family ties to the land go back to the 1920’s with several major expansions since then. This heritage has become very much a part of Womack as he carries on a legacy passed on from his father, his uncle, his grandfather and great grandfather. He fondly recalls being on the farm with his Dad and the special bond riding on the tractor and being out on the land together. “The memories are what keep us going,” he asserts as he reflects on his dreams for his own three young children.
This passion for working the land was evident in Womack’s grandfather even in his later years. First thing in the morning, and occasionally throughout the day, “he would come out and find where you were working,” Womack recalls. “He would come out and check on you and tell you something you needed to improve, change, or adjust in your plowing or whatever you were doing. Having that was special for me because I can relate with that love and passion he had for it.”
That passion was part of what drew Jason back to the farm after leaving for a season as a young man. After graduation, he went off to Florida and then Atlanta, and had an opportunity go into Insurance business. When the time came to make a decision about whether to return and take over the farm or pursue a career, he couldn’t help recalling his childhood roots in the land and in God. “As a little boy, I’d see my Dad drive by and I would cry because I wanted to go out and be with him on the farm so much. I always wanted to be riding around on the tractor with him, just being out on the farm.” Now at a pivotal crossroads as an adult, Jason based everything on prayer. He came to believe God would bless that childhood passion he had carried and sensed that the Lord was calling him back to the farm.
Jason decided to go full force and expand the farm. “I joke that I’m bullheaded,” Jason says of his passion. “I love it. Just as my little boy who talks about tractors, bulldozers and excavators, I love farming just that much as a 40-year-old.” That personal connection to the land has been foundational to the management of what has become three family businesses. In addition to traditional row crop farming, the family manages a turf growing operation (Red Oak Turf), and a Red Oak Sports that builds athletic fields. A small herd of cattle have become a cherished part of the operation too. “Since the beginning, we’ve had some good memories and we’ve had some ‘interesting’ memories. For us, it’s been a hard row to hoe... to get to where we’re at today. [The challenges] make you appreciate the little things. But there’s a big part of it that’s faith.”
Those challenges have only led Womack to a place of deeper faith in God. The fall of 2017 was a particularly challenging test as Hurricane Irma approached with potentially catastrophic winds. Aware of the recent damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, he knew the potential seriousness of what his family was facing. “It’s not often you hit your knees in the middle of the field,” Womack says, reflecting on the experience of facing the potential storm and surrendering all his fields and yields to God.
Womack starts off each year by saying, “God this is yours and I want to do with it whatever you want me to do with it and I’m going to try to steward it the best that I can.” That personal test of faith in anticipation of the storm turned out to be the biggest challenge of Hurricane Irma, as the farm escaped without major damage. Womack asserts that this willingness to step out in faith, trust in God and be faithful to be a good steward are the things that result in things working out on the farm year after year.
Womack emphasizes that a further key to success has been the support within the farming community. His success has come through friends in the farming industry that are generous with their equipment and help each other in various ways. There’s a lot of people [in the farming community] that he gleans advice and perspective from. This ability to learn from other’s on the ground multi-generational crop and soil management experience has been vital to his and other beginning farmer’s success.
A key component in that farming network has been NRCS District Conservationist Craig Bevan. Womack has come to deeply appreciate Bevan’s partnership, both in terms of perspective in the field and as a close personal friend. Bevan’s background in the use of cover crops and soil management has been very instructive. “After implementing several of those practices [that Bevan suggested, we saw] how much of a difference it made. [Learning how to] understand the science of organic material [and the importance of] having something growing on your land at all times has been a benefit and a blessing.”
“If you take care of the Land, it will take care of you,” Womack recalls his grandfather saying. “There’s so much truth in that,” Womack asserts as he affirms that farmers have to adapt to change and try new things. In that continually evolving stewardship process, he affirms the important role of NRCS. “I don’t know that we could make it work without NRCS,” he asserts in reference to his turf operation. “If we take NRCS and their programs out of farming, it would be almost impossible to make it work.
Beyond simply sharing technical assistance, Womack highlights the scope of his relationship with his NRCS District Conservationist. “It’s a blessing to have someone who really cares about the betterment of the farmer, rather than just doing a job 8 to 5. He’s not just [an agent] you go to for signing up for programs, he’s someone you can bounce ideas off of and process things with. He’s almost like a consultant that helps me. [We brainstorm] different ideas to implement [on my operation]. That’s such a blessing to a young person like myself who’s trying to go and do this the right way.”
Through Bevan’s service to Womack Farms, NRCS has become an important part of the foundation of faith, family, and friendship that is enabling them to carry on the family legacy of land stewardship on to the next generation.