If it’s early Tuesday morning – say, 4:45 a.m. – Harvin Hudson is already at Philadelphia’s Highway 16 East farmers market setting up the stand where he sells peas, okra or cucumbers. By 8:30 a.m., he’s finished at the market and might stop by the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Parks Commission or First Neshoba Federal Credit Union, as he serves on the board of both organizations. Later in the day, he’s cultivating part of his 12 acres of vegetables or perhaps taking inventory of what he needs to cater a Farm Bureau event later in the week. Come evening, he might get started on his usual Wednesday morning picking.
This is all in retirement, mind you.
“I look back and wonder how I got everything done,” says Hudson, who retired after a 30-year career with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “I can barely get everything done now.”
Hudson grew up in Louisville, the Winston County seat. He recalls his father raising vegetables to feed their family, and the many hours he and his brother worked alongside their dad. “I did not like it,” Hudson recalls. “Looking back, dad was doing it to teach us a work ethic.”
Despite not caring for raising vegetables in his youth, the agriculture bug had bitten Hudson. He attended Alcorn State University and majored in agriculture education, intent on becoming a teacher. But a few months before graduation, an Extension Service representative interviewed him on campus, and Hudson was hired. His first assignment, in 1983, was to serve as a 4-H agent in Lawrence County. Six years later, he moved to Neshoba County as the agriculture and natural resources agent.
As an Extension agent, Hudson quickly became an integral part of the community. A single farmers market already existed when Hudson got to Philadelphia, but it wasn’t thriving, he says.
“I got so many questions from producers about commercial vegetables, I decided to get into it myself,” he says.
His father was still raising vegetables, as well, so Hudson utilized his land and equipment. Using research-based information from Mississippi State University, Hudson learned how to be as efficient as possible in his operation so he could share his experience with Neshoba County producers.
“I was at the market every morning, even though I wasn’t selling anything myself at the beginning,” he recalls. “I guess the producers put some trust in me. I answered their questions as best I could, and it just ballooned from there.”
Hudson now sells his products at all three weekly markets in Neshoba County. That first market has grown from three producer vendors to about 15.
Hudson was also involved in the Wildlife Jamboree, which he says is the biggest program the Extension Service conducts in Neshoba County. The event aims to teach hunters and the public about safely harvesting wildlife for consumption. Hudson helped to grow it by involving other agencies such as the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Neshoba County Soil & Water Conservation; and Farm Service Agency.
“We tried to offer something for the whole family, kids and everyone, not just the hunters,” says Hudson, who notes attendance for the event now hovers around 2,600.
For decades, Hudson has coordinated the livestock shows and the exhibit hall at the Neshoba County Fair, which he says is the largest county fair in the southeastern United States. In addition, he’s actively worked to strengthen his community for decades through membership in the Philadelphia Community Development Partnership (CDP), Allies for Education and the Ambassador Program for Marketing Neshoba County. He also served on the CDP’s education committee and has devoted many volunteer hours to other community activities. Hudson was named Philadelphia and Neshoba County’s 2016 Citizen of the Year, and earlier this year, the Neshoba County Extension Service and the CDP named him the Friend of the Extension for 2019.
Hudson says he loved working for the Extension Service so much, it never felt like a job. He retired once – in 2010 – for about nine months before going back to work on a part-time basis. He retired the second time in 2017, except he still helps with the farmers markets, the Wildlife Jamboree and the county fair livestock shows and exhibit hall.
“I did the county fair [in 2019], but I think it was my last year,” he says. “Austin Ainsworth is the new agent now, and he needs the opportunity to get out there and make his mark on things.”
Besides, Hudson has his hands full cooking steaks, catfish and pulled pork to serve folks through his catering business. And he’s got 12 acres of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, squash and other vegetables to tend to.
One thing he does miss about the job is the people.
“Interacting with people was my favorite part of the job,” he says. “Extension agents are considered experts in the field because what we say has been researched and tested. People have that confidence in what an agent tells them; it’s not just an opinion or what I think.”
Hudson marvels that, in some ways, his life has come full circle from his boyhood helping his dad.
“I had no idea I would come back into the vegetable business,” he says. “We as farmers take pride in what we do. We are hard workers and we are committed to providing a good product to consumers.”
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