MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. — It was a hot July morning when Leah Williams, a 2020 University of Mount Olive graduate, took a quick break from her job to talk about education, farming, and the future of her family’s business. A fourth generation member of Williams Produce Farm LLC in Autryville, NC, the 21 year old, devotes a great deal of her time and energy to agriculture.
“It is a seven-day a week job,” she said. “I can start at 6 AM and work 14 to 16 hours a day. There is always something to do,” she said from the seat of the forklift as she loaded a pallet of watermelons onto a trailer for a waiting customer.
With farming under her fingernails and in her genes, it was only natural that Williams wanted to pursue a degree in ag business. So, when she graduated from Midway High School in 2018, she looked no further than UMO for her educational pursuits.
“My family works really hard at what we do,” Williams said. “I figured that if I wanted to remain in this industry, then I needed to broaden my knowledge and learn new methods to help us be more efficient and effective. The University of Mount Olive has helped me do just that.”
Through her coursework and internship opportunities, Williams has gained valuable information in marketing, developing business plans, and much more. “During my internship last summer, I learned how to ship products overseas and how to obtain GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. We are using a lot of that information on our farm this summer,” she said.
Sometimes when multiple generations are involved in a business, it is hard to break away from standard operating procedures, but Williams says she has been blessed that her family has been open to suggestions for improvement and growth. “I really wanted us to take advantage of the fall ag-tourism market,” she said. “I suggested we have our own pumpkin patch for pick-your-own customers to enjoy and to sell in our retail space. They agreed, and we are planting the seeds this week.”
Customer satisfaction is one of the things that drives Williams. “I enjoy seeing the smiles on our customers’ faces,” she said. “It is a hard, hot, and dirty job, but when you see customers return week-after-week because they enjoy your products and your service, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Williams Produce Farm, LLC is a 375 acre farm located at 2840 Maxwell Road in Sampson County. It is just 24 miles from the county seat of Clinton. They farm 175 acres of produce including watermelons, cantaloupes, peppers, tomatoes, grapes, blueberries, okra, peas, egg plants, and much more. With a multitude of green houses, they literally grow their fruits and vegetables from seed to stand. They sell much of their product in their farm stand located on the property. The remainder is shipped to a variety of retail stores throughout North and South Carolina. They don’t have a website yet but, according to Williams, one could be in the works in the near future. “We do have a Facebook page, and that is where we post our products and connect with our customers,” she said.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.
—Rhonda Jessup, University of Mount Olive