North Carolina Farmers Make It Happen For A Neighbor In Crisis
• By Carroll Smith,
Williamston is a small community filled with Southern charm in northeastern North Carolina on the banks of the Roanoke River. Its economy revolves around agriculture. In the tight-knit rural area, everyone looks out for everyone else.
James and Will Griffin grew up on the family’s cotton farm in Martin County. Will eventually took over their father’s construction business, while James continued to run the agricultural operation. Because his heart yearned for the farm, Will always helped James out when he could.
In 2020, James was diagnosed with cancer in September. But he was still able to run a machine while he and Will got the peanuts out. Two weeks before they started cotton harvest, James was scheduled to have his lymph nodes removed. He optimistically anticipated being able to get on the picker. However, during surgery, the doctors discovered the cancer had traveled to his carotid artery, so they had to take that out on one side of his neck as well.
Although James was down for a while, he managed to start picking cotton with his brother, Will. They were running two pickers and going pretty strong. One night, James felt lightheaded and kind of dizzy but blamed it on working too hard that day. The next morning, he woke up with stroke-like symptoms and was in the hospital for seven days.
The clock was ticking in the field and rain was in the forecast.
“At that time, most of our neighbors were winding up, but we still had about 200 acres to go out of 600,” Will says.
The Word Spreads
In the small community, other farmers in the area knew James had been diagnosed, was undergoing treatments and not doing well.
“James has always been a good friend of mine, and we live about five miles apart as the crow flies,” says Dusty Waters. “We were in the heat of cotton-picking time, and I lacked about 200 acres. Another farmer neighbor, Lee Williams, called me and asked if I needed some help. I said, ‘If you will help me finish up, then we can go help James Griffin get his cotton out.’”
After Lee helped Dusty and Dusty’s dad finish up, the farmers moved all of their equipment over to James’ place and started helping him get his cotton harvested and out of the field.
“We all work together as a community around here,” Lee says. “That’s one thing my daddy, Ed Williams, was known for — reaching out and helping others through the years. Sadly, we just lost him April 16, but he was a part of getting James’ crop in. My nephew, Mason Hardison, who graduated from North Carolina State University last fall, helps me out a great deal so we recruited him, too.”
As the news about what was going on got out, Will says everybody was coming in to help them that Saturday morning.
Major Cotton-Picking Event
“We had six pickers, five boll buggies, three module builders and three bushhogs,” he says. “Everybody knew what to do and worked together. We all just claimed a spot out in the field and took off.
“My daughter’s boyfriend, Trace Buck, is the BASF rep who helped get the word out. I even put him on a boll buggy. James’ son-in-law, Austin Spruill, is a police officer who usually helps us, but he had to be gone that day. When he came home and saw all the equipment, he wished he had been a part of it all.
“After the sun went down, it looked like a busy little city around the home and the shop. There was equipment in every corner of the farm. We ran about an hour and a half into the might to finish up. It was a good day’s work.”
James says he is grateful for his neighbors’ heroic efforts to help him out when he was in crisis during a critical time of the cotton season. The good news is James has recovered 100%, recently received a clear medical report and is back on the farm going at it again.