• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Working Hard, Enjoying Life

A man and woman stand next to a crate stacked with boxes of sweet potatoes.
Joe Edmondson was awarded the Mississippi 2020 Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Ag Expo Farmer of the Year.

Vardaman producer named Farmer of the Year

Story by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson

A man holding a gardening tool in one hand kneels over a crop while holding sweet potatoes in his other hand.
Edmondson worked hard throughout
the pandemic.

When Joe Edmondson surveys his farming operation at Topashaw Farms, he thinks about his more than 40 full-time employees and the hundreds of seasonal workers who work the acres.

At the nexus of Chickasaw, Webster, and Choctaw Counties near Vardaman, Edmondson’s operation includes sweet potatoes, soybeans, and corn, and he has a few hundred head of cows and calves, as well as a few bulls and horses. He also runs a sawmill and planer mill, as well as grain bins and a sweet potato packing warehouse.

With this diverse operation, Edmondson truly relies on his employees, including his wife and children. When he received the 2020 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Farmer of the Year award for Mississippi in July, he was quick to credit them.

“I’m honored that I was named farmer of the year, but my family and the workers are as big a part of this operation as I am.”

— JOE EDMONDSON

“That’s what most people want: a full-time job,” he laughs. “Doing all these different things, we can keep somebody busy over the whole year. I’m surrounded by good workers and my family—the whole family is involved—and I’ve got good help, really good help.

“I’m honored that I was named Farmer of the Year, but my family and the workers are as big a part of this operation as I am,” Edmondson emphasizes.

Over the years, he and his employees have had to maintain food-production certifications and pesticide-application licenses, and Edmondson participates in Mississippi State University Extension Service programs to maintain up-to-date operating procedures. The local Extension agent, Trent Barnett, helped nominate Edmondson for the Farmer of the Year recognition.

Video by Jonathan Parrish

“I’ve known Trent since he took the job,” Edmondson reflects. “He’s one of those hands-on, involved people. He goes above and beyond to get the word out about Extension. We’re lucky to have him, and he does a really good job.

“I’ve never gone to Extension with a question and not gotten the answer,” Edmondson says. “And, they’ll get it for me as quick as they can. They help us keep up with the certifications and provide the training we need.”

Close up of a hand holding sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes

As in other production operations across Mississippi, the pandemic brought a host of challenges to Topashaw Farms since March. Edmondson and his team have followed the regulations and are continuing to meet customer requests for sweet potatoes.

The pandemic has also led to sweet potato sales slowing a bit, but Edmondson remains optimistic.

“I’m not in control of the big picture,” he emphasizes. “All you can do is have faith, endure, and overcome. I’m blessed.”

While change is inevitable, Edmondson continues focusing on the things that matter most—family and work.

“All three of my kids live within a quarter-mile of my house, and very seldom do you find a family that all comes back home. That’s been my biggest accomplishment— that everybody here’s got a good life, and they enjoy what they do,” he says.

 

 

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