On a cold winter’s day in 1920, on a rural farm in Gore, Annie Morrel Hendrix was born into a family of Chattooga County farmers. Tuesday, February 21, 2017, Annie Sue celebrated her 97th birthday there in Gore on the farm that she has lived on for all but a few months of her life. In fact, Annie has lived within a six mile radius of her current residence for her entire life.
Her mother inherited $300 in 1938, which she used as a down payment on the farm home and the original 140-acre farm. Annie has done a little of everything on the farm from planting cotton, to picking and chopping cotton, to tending to the garden. As the only girl of four boys in the family, Annie shared a large burden of the responsibility in the house as well as the fields. “I’ve been getting up and cooking breakfast since as 12 years old, I got up every morning at 4 o’clock,” says McCary. Breakfast was a time when everyone, young and old came together to start the day. The family table that Annie and her parents and four brothers gathered around, still sits in her home, and is the gathering spot for Sunday dinner after church.
Annie is the widow of Marvin McCary, whom she married in 1940. Her only son, Dennis, was born when she was nearly 29 years old, in 1948.
Ms. McCary remembers a time that most have forgotten, or never experienced. A time when travel was done with a team of mules (a trip to Tifton took one week), the family also had a Model-T Ford to get around in. She remembers details such as her family’s distinct ring for the community phone, the water dipper that everyone at the school shared and she remembers getting electricity in 1937, remarking that it was one of the biggest changes in her life. At 97, her memory is crisp and clear, although her vision left her many years ago. She recalls every year, every crop that was planted, the years that were good and the times that weren’t. She remembers the boll weevils, and the Depression when the family had to start to over. “It was rough, but we made it.” And they have. Shallow Creek Farm today is a flourishing family farm, on much of the original acreage, plus additional land purchased and rented over five generations.
The McCary’s work hard to ensure they’re good stewards of the land and make the most of what they have and, this year were recognized as the Chattooga County Young Farmer’s “Farm Family of the Year.” Accepting the award was Annie’s grandson, Shawn McCary, and his wife Kellie. Shawn and his father, Dennis, work the family farm daily. Shawn also works full time for the University of Georgia as a Research assistant on a 900 acre farm with 500 head of cattle in Floyd County. Shawn is dedicated to both his industry and his community, serving on the Board of Bethel Methodist Church, the Gore Fire Hall, the Chattooga Indians Youth Wrestling Club, The Chattooga County Agriculture Fair Council, as well as being a life-long member of the Chattooga County Young Farmer’s Association. He is a man who gives back to his community and family daily. He and Kellie have three children Caden Blalock, and Colton and Eme McCary, who are the fifth generation to live and work on the farm.
“My Dad is the backbone of the operation, always willing to do whatever is needed, and my grandmother at 97 is the driving force behind us, even at her age she greets the grand kids (her great-grandchildren) in the afternoons as they get off the bus, and she keeps us up to date on all the news,” said Shawn.
The fifth-generation farm has 60 head of grain feed cattle on 95 acres, which are sold directly off the farm. The cow-calf operation of Shallow Creek Farm has two directions: 1. to produce heifers that will go back into the herd as replacement females and, 2. to sell high-quality cattle to be processed for beef. And, of course, the occasional sale of heifers to other farmers as replacements. Shallow Creek Farm also helps organize and conduct three registered cattle sales a year in three different states.
The farm also grows 175 acres of hay and 20 acres of Bermuda hay. The farm is a self-sustaining operation complete with a small sawmill. In the past, there has been cotton, corn, and chickens raised on the land.
Dennis and Shawn both agree that farming is hard. The conditions are difficult and the economy is unforgiving on the farmer. The drought of 2017, while an inconvenience to some, was a crippling blow to Shallow Creek Farm. The McCary’s saw their livelihood dry up before their eyes. The farm lost over $30,000 in hay profits and lost most of the winter feed supply for the cattle. This drought was not the worst weather related hardship, but served as a reminder that the farmer is always at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Modern day farming is about efficiency. As crop prices continue to fluctuate, mostly downward, farmers have to be as efficient as possible and Shallow Creek Farm is no different. Whether it’s with water, fertilizer, or seed, they implement best-practices on their farm. Additionally, the Chattooga County farming community is very interconnected, which is a blessing in itself.
And while Dennis and Shawn say farming itself isn’t ‘political,’ politics have a tremendous bearing on agri-business. The Georgia Cotton Commission, Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau, the Peanut Commission and other similar organizations are becoming more and more important for a voice and representation as the number of farmers continues to decline.
Farmers are far too often overlooked in a small community. Farm families like the McCarys make Chattooga County a better place. And the strength of a 97-year old blind great-grandmother is a gift from God. Happy Birthday, Annie Morrel Hendrix McCary, and congratulations to the 2017 Chattooga County “Farm Family Of The Year.”