The original owners of Jubilee Ranch in Jackson had the farm’s name carved into the gate. Today, the proud letters welcome prospective farmers to be mentored by the current owner, Primus Wheeler.
“We are creating a way of life,” says Wheeler, who was named 2019 Farmer of the Year by the Alcorn State University School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. “My love of farming goes back to the day I was born. I like to wake up on a really brisk spring morning, step on the tractor and till. The smell of dirt opening up – now that is heaven.”
Wheeler, a fourth-generation farmer, is the oldest of eight siblings who grew up on a diverse farm, raising cotton, soybeans, corn and hogs. He is proud his parents were able to educate all of their children, although it took years for any of them to return to the farm. Wheeler himself went into health care after graduating from college in the early 1970s.
Then in 1986, things changed.
“The farm had some debt, and my wife, Earlene, and I went back to clear it up,” Wheeler says. “We had some financial expertise between us to bring to the table and implement the things that needed to be done to make the farm successful again. That is how we got started. I still work full-time and farm part-time.”
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Today, the couple raises cattle, hogs, goats and several crops on Jubilee Ranch. They also grow soybeans with Primus’ brother, Michael, on part of the original tracts their parents owned. In addition, the couple spends time mentoring local young people with a curiosity in agriculture.
“I am really interested in bringing young farmers along with us,” Wheeler says. “Urban folks think their food grows at the grocery store, so they benefit from seeing how our farm works in real life. They see it is possible to farm the way we do, working full-time jobs during the week and farming on nights and weekends.”
The Wheelers also share the farm with local children. This year, several 5- to 7-year-olds who came to the farm each went home with a bucket containing a growing vegetable for them to take care of. The project fits Wheeler’s small farmer philosophy of joining forces with others for the good of all.
“We got involved with the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and attended a small farmer conference several years ago. I learned that teaming up with other small farmers, sharing costs and collaborating is a more feasible way to farm,” he says. “We are part of a co-op now that has helped young farmers get started. Working together is the way my parents farmed, and I have found it to be very rewarding.”
Wheeler has learned to take advantage of the resources available to help small farmers. For example, he used funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to put in fencing to keep his cattle in place. Additionally, a sound business plan and working with the USDA and sustainability groups allow for additional improvements.
His farming knowledge carries over into his day job as executive director of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation. The community-based organization provides development assistance, affordable housing and food programs for area residents.
“It is easy to incorporate my love of farming with my full-time job. And the income is necessary to support us since we operate a small farm,” he says.
With Wheeler’s guidance, the foundation has created a farmers market, community garden and a kitchen where people can learn to grow, eat and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables. They even started a culinary arts program to train chefs.
As for the farm, Wheeler says since the business is now stable, the sky is the limit.
“There is nothing in the world more important to me than to see our farming operation continue and see farming in general operated by small farmers,” he says. “With a passion for the land and for people, you can succeed in this business.”
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