Marshall-Farm-Pumpkins

The Marshall family of Dogspur, Va., pauses from working to display some of their pumpkins. From left are Hailee, Leah, Travis, Amber, Tonya and Moriah Marshall.

DUGSPUR,Va. — “Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere” is a phrase that can easily describe Marshall’s Farm Plus LLC here in this Carroll County community.

The Marshall family is in the midst of harvesting 102 acres of pumpkins, with more than 30 varieties available.

The family business is unique in several ways.

Travis and Tonya Marshall are the parents of four daughters: Hailee, Amber, Leah and Moriah, who range in age from 9 to 19. The girls have worked alongside their parents as the operation grew from just a half acre to an acre and beyond.

The fact that the girls are home-schooled enables them to work on the farm during the busy season.

Unlike many farm families in the area, this family has found it can make more money in farming than having one member work off the farm to pay the bills.

The Marshall farm is diversified, growing butternut squash, pumpkins, cattle and timber. In the summer, they strip bark from poplar trees, which is used as siding for houses, Travis Marshall said. They harvest pine and oak timber in the summer, and poplar trees in the winter.

Pumpkins, however, are the biggest part of their operation. Through Wednesday, they have picked and shipped more than 1,600 bins of pumpkins through the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market in nearby Hillsville, and more orders were coming in on their cellphones. They are four weeks into the harvest, which will continue through November.

Both Travis and Tonya Marshall stressed the importance of this distribution center, which is dedicated to produce farmers in Carroll County. It serves as a hub for the marketing and shipping of many different kinds of food crops grown within the the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“That’s our biggest asset,” Travis Marshall said.

“Not only for us, but for everybody,” Tonya Marshall said.

She explained that the county is home to a large community of farmers growing vegetable crops.

Harvesting pumpkins is hard work. As their parents talked, Amber and Leah picked different sized pumpkins and carried them one by one to the big cardboard boxes. As a bin was filled, Travis Marshall used a tractor and took the bins, sitting on wooden pallets, to load onto a trailer. When it was filled, the load was driven directly to the farmers market.

Family members recalled that at first they used to plant all their pumpkin seeds by hand, poking a hole in the ground with a stick and dropping the seed into it. They no longer do that. They plant the seeds into soil protected by a wheat cover crop. Travis Marshall said the wheat helps the ground overwinter and serves as a bed to keep the pumpkins clean as they grow on top, not directly on the soil.

The pumpkins are planted in color-coded sequences so they can be picked easily to fill the bins. This avoids having to sort them.

This is the 18th year the family has grown pumpkins. This week they also assembled pumpkins and squash to be sent to the State Fair of Virginia in Doswell.

The fair is too far away from this southwest Virginia county for the Marshalls to attend, Travis Marshall said. But they can compete by sending their entries through a representative of the Virginia Pumpkin Growers Association.

“Our life and our business is a family thing,” Tonya Marshall said. “We help each other, we stick together.”

Her daughters proved this one year when they planted the whole 110-acre pumpkin crop themselves. Travis Marshall had eye surgery and they stepped in to do the planting.

Growing up on the farm, the girls have learned to do many tasks including driving tractors and trucks, Tonya Marshall said.

She credits God for their success.

“Without him, it wouldn’t be possible,” she said. “He gives us the grace to do it all.”

Jane W. Graham is a freelance writer in southwest Virginia.

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