Adam Wooten and George Wooten III are a part of a fifth-generation family of growers, George Wooten, president and owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., said.
George Wooten III, farm operations manager for the company, deals with the day-to-day growing operations at the grow and Adam Wooten, operations manager, oversees the receiving, packing and shipping of sweet potatoes.
The Wootens’ main crop is sweet potatoes, but the family works with rotational crops of soybeans or cotton, too.
The Wootens began growing sweet potatoes in the 80s, George Wooten III said, but the Wooten sons’ mother’s side of the family has been growing for a while.
The family’s history in the growing business goes back to the Wooten sons’ great-grandfather, Adam Wooten said.
The Wootens started growing when there wasn’t machinery.
“It was all done manually with livestock,” Adam Wooten said.
More growers decide to stop growing every year, and that worries George Wooten.
“We’ve got to encourage people to grow,” George Wooten said. “We’re struggling with what to do here (growing in North Carolina), and a lot of people are giving up farming because they can’t make a living.”
The last statistics that George Wooten and George Wooten III saw stated 2% of the U.S. population was growers.
“I don’t think we want to get in a situation where we are importing a lot of stuff,” George Wooten III said.
Adam Wooten and George Wooten III decided to grow sweet potatoes because they grew up in the business. George worked with his grandfather on small grow jobs during the summer when he was seven.
He has always had a love for growing.
“I just grew up around it and just really enjoyed it and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
“Even with the challenges now sometimes — it’s not as fun as it used to be — but I just can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Adam Wooten got his degree in agribusiness at North Carolina State University and came back to work with his family.
“I kind of saw the lifestyle as I grew up with the previous generation before me,” Adam Wooten said.
“My family never pushed me into it, and they did show me what a great life it could be, especially if you approach it with the right attitude.”
Although grow work is difficult, the Wooten sons enjoy the challenge and watching the crop grow through the year.
Both said there are a few downsides to growing, though.
Over the last four to five years, the grow has had problems with weeds and insects. Leasing land has gotten harder, and it takes awhile for a crop to be profitable. Labor and food safety regulations are constantly changing, and difficult to maintain.