Co., Mississippi Vegetable Industry
Sad to say, it is no more. A once thriving industry that
carried Copiah Co., Mississippi thru the Great Depression of the 1930’s and was
at one time a many million dollar per year industry is no more. I doubt that
you could take a million dollars to Copiah Co., MS. today and buy a truckload
of any kind of vegetables, let alone tomatoes.
The Copiah Co., MS. tomato has been recognized as the best tasting
tomato on the market due to the soil it is raised in.
My father C.A.Roper (Hazlehurst Mercantile Co.) one Saturday
about 1943-45 shipped over 50 rail carloads of tomatoes. We started about 9:00
am, after enough tomatoes had come to town worked all day and night Saturday,
stopping Sunday so that the workers could go to church, and finished up Sunday
afternoon. A rail carload of tomatoes was about 750 crates of 30 pounds of
tomatoes. I was his fifth son, so starting about 9 years old (1939) I was his
label boy. I did this till after my freshman year in College 1948-1949. I guess I must have labeled more boxes,
crates, hampers, and baskets of Copiah Co., MS. produce than any other person
in Copiah Co., MS., maybe the World.
I have heard it said that the tomato business in Copiah Co.,
MS. was estimated to be worth at least 12 to 14 million dollars a year in the
1930’s and 1940’s when a million dollars was a lot of money. About 6 to 7
million in Crystal Springs, 5 or 6 million in Hazlehurst and 1 to 2 million in
Georgetown, Utica, and Wesson, MS. It was also said that in the heart of the
depression, there was more money in the banks of Copiah Co., MS. than there was
in the Jackson, MS. banks. Wise Motor Co. of Hazlehurst, Ms sold more large
trucks than any Ford dealership in the country in those years.
This industry ceased because the young men coming back from
the wars found they could go to college on the GI Bill to get a better job than
the stoop labor of vegetable farming. Also about 1945 we started to have
diseases in tomatoes like “wilt’, “fungus”, “stem rot” and others that would
nearly wipe out a crop and the new tomato varieties breed to resist these had
not been developed. This is where the Crystal Springs State experiment farm
came into being. As the older farmers died out, no one was there to replace
them. Besides, some in Copiah thought pine tree farms were a better deal, less
work and just lay back and wait while your trees grew big.
This vegetable business was deep into my blood. My
Grandfather William B. Alford Sr.
(Alford & Miller Co.) was in the business, as was his father William
Warren Alford at Gallman, MS. Others at
Hazlehurst, MS. were S. Kemp & Co., Ford Pitts, Roy Tomicich, and Kenneth
Catching, to name a few. Many more in
Crystal Springs and elsewhere in Copiah.
Maybe if the world keeps going as it has, and this country
keeps getting deeper in debt to the other nations, with no industry here to
help pay the bills, we may be so bad off that even the people who despised the
stoop labor involved in vegetable farming will return to the Earth for a
living. Thanks for hearing an old man
list some of his childhood memories.
Patrick E. Roper, September 11, 2008.