Gerald Frye wanted to be a farmer his entire life.
But he grew up near the city and went to college to study business, because it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
After working for General Electric, managing rental properties and operating a tiny seaside motel, Frye’s dream finally came true.
At the age of 45, he became a farmer.
And, as Frye attests, he couldn’t have done it without Cooperative Extension.
“We bought a 40-acre tract of land – there wasn’t any farm to it – no buildings, no fences, nothing,” Frye says. “And when we got here, I realized that even though I’d always dreamed of living on a farm, I had no idea how much knowledge it takes to operate a farm.
“I knew nothing, but one of the things I did right early on was stumble into the Extension office and make contact with Jeff Carpenter,” Frye says. “With Jeff’s help, I realized I could do it. It was going to be a culture shock, but I could do it.”
Carpenter, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the College’s Department of Animal Science, retires from Extension in August 2013 after nearly 30 years of service in a number of different positions. He most recently served as county Extension director in Catawba County, which is where he met Frye.
With the ambition to raise cattle, Frye and his wife, Leslie, started out by purchasing a few head. They built their house by hand and gradually turned the land into a functioning farm. Today, nearly 20 years later, they operate a successful cow/calf operation on more than 200 acres with a herd of about 70 cattle, including three bulls.
Carpenter and Extension were there every step of the way, Frye says.
“I told him I didn’t know anything,” Frye says. “Jeff helped me pick out heifers and bulls; he told us the traits to look for, and he literally walked us through the process. He and his colleagues are always so patient and supportive. And when Jeff might not know the answer, he calls up someone at N.C. State and finds it. Then before you know it, he shows up out here with a solution to our problem.”
Aside from raising horses as a young boy (he still maintains a few today), Frye had no connection to agriculture growing up just outside Hickory. So Extension helped him with everything from choosing the right grass varieties to weaning calves, Frye says.
“I had no concept of how much knowledge is required to be successful in agriculture,” Frye says. “I can never adequately express my appreciation for the vast amount of agricultural knowledge that I have been exposed to. It has been one of the most wonderful blessings in the world.
“With every segment of taking care of these cows – getting them bred, keeping them healthy, weaning the calves, getting them in as healthy condition as we can to move them on to the next phase – Extension has always been there,” Frye says.
“A great many times, Jeff is the one putting on programs, but he also lines up presentations by other folks like equipment dealers, the Farm Bureau and the DOT [N.C. Department of Transportation].”
Frye is active in the Catawba Valley Cattlemen’s Association and says that he has also learned a lot from the educational tours that Carpenter organizes for the group. He’s participated in trips to Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Louisiana and a number of spots in North Carolina.
“I don’t know all the work Jeff does, but I just know that he puts in a lot of time,” Frye says. “I also know there are a lot of people in that system supporting Jeff, and there’s all kinds of research behind what he offers. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in Extension has been so helpful.”
In 2007, during one of North Carolina’s worst droughts, Frye was forced to start selling his cows when his farm couldn’t generate enough hay to feed them. The plan, he says, was to sell nearly the entire herd in order to make ends meet.
“Then Jeff brought us information about feeding cornstalks to the cattle, and it worked,” Frye says. “We got through it, and we were able to quit selling off our cows. That’s just one of a number of examples of how Jeff has helped us.
“Life without Extension would have been extremely limited,” Frye says. “We would not have been exposed to such a huge amount of knowledge. Jeff is the best. Just knowing someone’s there like that makes all this so much easier.”
— Suzanne Stanard