REEDVILLE, Va. — It’s late afternoon, and darkness is beginning to threaten in the skies above a tiny community in the Northern Neck of Virginia.
It’s been a long day for P.J. Haynie III. He’s picked up chemicals needed for the large family farm he operates with his dad, Phillip Johnson Haynie Jr., also known as Ricky. P.J. Haynie’s grandfather is the senior of the group, but the farming family goes back many years.
Robert Haynie who was born a slave on the fertile Northern Neck in 1823. Just a few years after the end of the Civil War, he purchased a 70-acre farm in Northumberland County. He taught himself carpentry and built the Macedonia Baptist Church the family still attends every Sunday.
Attending church in the same place their ancestors attended is just one of the traditions Haynie family members follow today.
The family finishes its harvest of corn, wheat and soybeans well before the holidays, but it’s been a slow year, P.J. Haynie said. A lot of wet weather hasn’t helped, either.
P.J. Haynie still greets his dad at 5 a.m. each day. They both work seven days a week. You’ve got to do what needs to be done to get the job accomplished, he said.
Their farm, with land they own and lease, is spread across several counties, but is mostly in Northumberland and Westmoreland counties. The area is one of the state’s best known for grain production.
“We’re not like Iowa farmers with 600 acres in one place,” P.J. Haynie said. “We also operate a logging business and have a long-distance trucking company that hauls the Omega-3 fish oil for the pet care industry.”
The oil comes from the menhaden that frequent the waters surrounding Reedville. The little fish, no bigger than a human hand, are known for their high-protein oil. The fish are said to have been used as fertilizer for the Pilgrim’s first corn crop, according to a recent article in Progressive Farmer.
Seven miles across the water from Reedville is Maryland. Washington, D.C., is 80 miles north of the town.
Historically, the area is near where President George Washington roamed as a child, and it’s where P.J. Haynie grew up with four sisters. Three of his sisters are doctors; the youngest is an accountant. A younger brother died from sudden infant death syndrome. Ricky Haynie broke up with his first wife after they lost their infant son.
P.J. Haynie said he can’t recall when he first realized he wanted to be a farmer, but the call of the fields, the winds blowing in the trees and the warmth of the bright sunshine was something he said he couldn’t resist.
Haynie’s three children follow the same path to the school bus each morning that he followed as a boy. With the exception of his eldest daughter, Collette, none of his kids — ages 15, 12 and 7 — have shown any real interest in farming, he said. But that could change.
He said Collette may actually follow his wife, Lisa, into medicine. Lisa Haynie is a general practitioner.
P.J. Haynie said he understands farming isn’t for everyone. With low commodity prices, he said he still can’t believe how much he pays for chemicals.
“I paid $500 a gallon for some of the stuff, $520 a gallon for others,” he said. “And with everything I spent, it still didn’t fill the back of my truck. It’s hard to believe.”
Farming can be especially hard for black farmers. The story of his father’s trials was chronicled in the Washington Post in 2004.
The Haynies had their equipment shot at, there were fires set on the farm, and Ricky Haynie was unable to get loans when he needed them. P.J. Haynie is very familiar with the statistics.
“In 1920, the white-to-black farmer ratio was 4 to 1; in 1996, it was 100 to 1,” he said. “The issue was the lending practices. The USDA did its own investigation. It took 30 days on average for a white farmer to get a loan. It took 90 days for a black farmer. It took the wind out of their sails for a lot of black farmers. They left the farm and never went back. My family, I guess, was able to bear the discrimination.”
There are 2.1 million principal farmer owners in the U.S., according to the 2012 Census. A principal farmer or rancher makes the day-to-day decisions. There are slightly more than 36,000 black principal operators in the U.S., well below the number of women principal operators — 288,264 — and Spanish, Hispanic or Latino farm operators — 79,807
P.J. Haynie graduated from Virginia Tech in 1999 with a degree in agricultural economics. The younger Haynie maintains his ties with Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and frequently talks with students about his family’s farming experience.
He’s a member of the USDA’s Plant Variety Protection Act Board and is on the Agricultural Advisor Council for Virginia’s 1st Congressional district. He also serves on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advisory Committee for both Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.
Locally, he’s a board member of Chesapeake Academy and a member of Macedonia Baptist Church.
Haynie is also a member of the National Black Growers Council, a coalition of African-American commodity growers who “advocate for the 21st century policy needs of black growers and the future of black growers.”
P.J. Haynie was recently named a “Champion of Change” by President Barack Obama. The award is handed out by the White House to individuals for “doing extraordinary things in their own community.”
In his travels, Haynie has been to South Africa and Cuba. He talks about the large fields farmers in those countries get to work, and he talks about the beautiful fields of tobacco grown in Cuba for the highly prized Cuban cigars.
“Cuba is beautiful,” he said. “Oh, yeah, Cuban cigars.”
But Haynie Farms on the Northern Neck of Virginia is still his favorite place.
Linda McNatt is a freelance writer in southeast Virginia.