GREENSBORO, NC – For many years – over a century – the predominant cash crop in Guilford County was tobacco. Even as recently as 50 years ago there were over 3,200 tobacco farmers in the county. Today there are only approximately 1,300 tobacco farmers in all of North Carolina.
Many of the growers who left tobacco production also left agriculture. The Rudd family, headed by patriarch Kenneth and matriarch Joan, were able to continue farming even after giving up the golden leaf by turning to raising strawberries and produce. Because of that transition, the family farm is now in its fourth generation.
“Growing up, I didn’t think I would be a farmer,” said Matt Rudd, who together with his brother Ken actively manage the family farm. “My father would say ‘Just wait, you’ll end up a farmer.’”
Today Matt’s wife Chelsey also works full-time on the farm, and the children of both Matt and Chelsey and Ken and his wife Ashley also help on the farm. The operation also uses immigrant labor.
The farm just planted its 24th crop of strawberries, 17 acres total – 15 acres of Ruby June and two acres of Albion, a day-neutral variety which they harvest as the spring strawberry season ends and before the peak summer produce season.
“We also grow some trial varieties,” Matt said. “Ruby June was originally a trial for us.”
The Rudd farm is on the outskirts of Greensboro. They sell the vast majority of their produce from their farm store. Their position adjacent to a major north-south artery (Route 29) and a new urban loop (I-840) facilitates traffic not only from the neighboring metro area but also from as far away as Virginia. It’s happened, in fact, that traffic to the farm has led to back-ups on neighboring roads.
The Rudds are building a new farm store with expanded parking to help alleviate congestion on local roads. The store should be open by next strawberry season. The Rudds open their store from spring strawberry season through Halloween. At one point, the farm had U-pick strawberries, but that ended with COVID. As an alternative, the Rudds developed a drive-thru option, which remains popular today.
In addition to growing for retail customers, the Rudds also donate food to local food banks and nonprofits.
While strawberries are the heart of Rudd Farm, produce keeps the farm busy and customers happy throughout the summer growing season. The farm grows many acres of sweet corn, plus the staples: tomatoes, peppers, okra, lettuce, melons and more.
In autumn, there are more than 30 varieties of pumpkins on offer. Early season crops are planted on black plastic, with summer crops planted on white plastic. This year they used trellising to grow cucumbers.
“I think it did better,” said Ken. “It gives more room to work around the vine. And it yielded better.”
The farm freezes strawberries to process into jellies and preserves. The Rudds also grew sunflowers this year to sell as cut flowers. Aside from word-of-mouth, most of their marketing is through social media, which Chelsey oversees.
The farm has greenhouses which they use to supplement their field crops. For example, around Thanksgiving they’ll plant tomatoes to have a tomato crop ready at strawberry season. They also experiment in the greenhouses like they do in the fields. This year, they planted lettuce in the bags they used to grow tomatoes as a way to get a second harvest out of the same material. (They use a pine bark/sand mix as a growing medium.)
And in 2023, the Rudds were recognized as one of the Farm Families of the Day at the North Carolina State Fair.
For more information on the Rudd’s successful multi-generational operation, visit ruddfarm.com.
by Karl H. Kazaks