Family, faith, and farming in Wayne County

Lorenda Overman raises corn, wheat, soybeans, livestock and a growing family alongside her husband on their Goldsboro Farm.

Lorenda Overman's grandson Wade, 2, drives his tractor around the backyard at Overman Farms in Goldsboro, N.C., Monday, March 6, 2017. Lorenda started the family farm with her husband, Harrell, more than 30 years ago and they have grown into 5,000 acres of row crops with thousands of hogs. Lorenda has been heavily involved in the world of North Carolina agriculture with large roles in the Pork Council and state Farm Bureau among other groups. (North State Journal/North State Journal)

GOLDSBORO —— In May, Lorenda Overman will celebrate 35 years of marriage to her husband, Harrell. Those vows Lorenda made to Harrell over three decades ago came with strings attached — six generations of strings made of soybeans, wheat, corn and livestock.

“We got married on a Saturday and wheat harvest started on Tuesday,” said Overman of her trial-by-fire introduction to farm life. “I wasn’t prepared — the minute you pick wheat you plant soybeans, and your day starts at 6 a.m. and it ends about 10 p.m.” Overman reminisces about those early years with the self-deprecating ease that comes from having settled seamlessly into a life she wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”Everybody around here knows I cried that whole first wheat harvest,” said Overman with an easy laugh. “I got with the program pretty quick though.”The green wheat beginning to wave in the field is blissfully bucolic, and this time of year is Overman’s favorite. “I love the spring and the summer,” she said. “A fresh crop that has just sprouted is equivalent to new beginnings — it imparts possibility and all kinds of opportunity the sky is the limit.”

The amount of reverence for her farm’s crop production is contagious, albeit tempered with a healthy respect for Mother Nature. “You plant your crop, you see it sprouting, and you are amazed — it really is a small miracle!”The miracle is tenuous and that knowledge is always front of mind for Overman who wears many hats for the farm operation. Like most farmers, she can remember the exact circumstances of a late freeze taking out an early wheat crop, and this year the wheat is significantly ahead of schedule.”If the cold weather hits that crop just right it will wipe it out,” she said as she rolls off the last time that happened without missing a beat. If you want to know what the weather was like on any given day, ask a farmer. “I believe it was Easter morning of 2010 — the wheat had just headed and we went to sunrise service in our heavy coats and gloves with our hearts breaking because we knew we’d just lost that crop. That was the hardest frost we’ve ever had that late, and it wiped all 1,500 acres of wheat out.”

Over the years, Overman’s passion for their Wayne County farm and North Carolina agriculture has landed her on multiple local, state, and national agriculture advocacy boards. She relishes the time spent learning and sharing among her fellow committee members. “Most of the time we are in conference rooms, but on a recent trip to Louisiana we got out to visit a sugar cane farm, and I got to ride in the sugar cane harvester. It was an awesome experience!” said Overman. “Seeing how other farmers work and process their crops can only inform our own work.”

That work changes from day to day because the multiple hats Overman wears ranges from keeping the books, to mowing, to moving trucks from field to field. She is as comfortable behind the desk as she is climbing over a gate to interact with their Silky Pork populating the finishing floor. “I really don’t have a normal day — every single day is different,” said Overman. “It keeps things interesting.”

That first season may have been tough on the former city girl, but it paved the way for many happy harvest years and a deep commitment to both her local community and the greater world of agriculture. During her career Overman has seen many changes in N.C. agriculture, and she is excited about farming’s future. “Agriculture is the industry that you cannot live without. You have to eat. The fact that only 2% of the population farms in the U.S. allows everyone else to pursue their dreams in other careers,” said Overman. “I only see potential for N.C. agriculture.”