Local farmer enters Hall of Fame

A Conover man’s lifelong dedication to the agriculture industry through leadership and participation led to state award.

Ira Cline, of Conover, was awarded the Hall of Fame award by the North Carolina Vegetable Growers’ Association for his continued work, innovation and leadership to the vegetable industry.

Dick Tunnell, chairman of the board for the NCVGA, presented the award to Cline in December at the Southeast Vegetable and Fruit Expo in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“When you get an award in front of all the people you’ve known for years, it’s humbling,” said Cline.

The Hall of Fame award is a yearly award that has been given out since 2004. The award is the most prestigious award given by the NCVGA. Each year, there are two to three farmers nominated for the award by a committee that consists of fellow growers.

“We look at it from the standpoint, Mr. Cline is very active in (farm) growing,” said Bonnie Holloman, executive director of the NCVGA. “We take in his whole agricultural background, including his involvement in groups and mentoring to other growers.”

Cline is the owner and operator of the Ira Cline Farm in Conover. He is a fourth-generation farmer and has been in the agriculture business for more than 50 years. Ira Cline Farm grows blueberries, gourds and pumpkins. In 2009, Cline closed the strawberry portion of his farm because of strenuous work required to upkeep the crop. He turned the remaining of the crop into strawberry products, such as jams, jellies, preserves and cider.

“There is a lot of personal satisfaction in producing a good, clean and healthy food supply for your fellow man,” said Cline.

The Ira Cline Farm does not package for wholesale, but all crops are available for sale at the farm. Blueberries, both fresh and frozen are available, as well as strawberry products, gourds, pumpkins and shelled pecans. In addition to his berry farm, Cline has a cow and calf operation with 60 cattle, of which he sells cuts of beef. Cline also sells his products at the Conover Farmers Market on Saturdays.

As an active member of the NCVGA, Cline and other board members work with N.C. State programs to raise money for agricultural research in areas, such as irrigation, post-harvest handling and pesticide practices. Cline said the main issue is to save the N.C. State agricultural programs because, without them, he thinks local farmers cannot function.

“It is very important that we save the research stations, university system and extension services,” said Cline. “If we lose this, the local consumers will be paying a lot more for groceries.”

Also, Cline said he is in communication with legislators in Raleigh on a daily basis to save the N.C. agricultural program and services. He and his wife, Ann Cline help raise money for research through selling pecan pies. The pies often sell for $100. Cline extended his fundraising efforts through membership in the N.C. Watermelon Association of Growers.

Cline is no stranger to Catawba County organizations. Cline has been involved in several county and agricultural organizations. Prior to NCVGA, Cline served for seven years as vice president and later president of the Catawba County Farm Bureau, which he said was a rewarding leadership experience for him.

He currently is a part of the North Carolina Voluntary Agricultural Districts program, which encourages and protects commercial agriculture. Cline said the program helps those in agriculture be good neighbors with each other.

“The purpose of (the program) is to let newcomers in your community know that there is a farm where they are coming to,” said Cline. “We want them to know we are here and that we are producing food and fiber.”

In addition, Cline is a member of the North American Strawberry Growers Board and the North Carolina Strawberry Board. Cline also serves on the vegetable committee for the N.C. Farm Bureau State Advisory Board and on the agricultural committee for the N.C. Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services.

“When you serve on these kind of things, its voluntary, but you get to see things, visit places and learn things that people are envious of,” said Cline.

Cline said now his body is dictating what he can do on the farm, but he anticipates a good growing season with more rain. He said his main concern is to keep his farm intact and keep high quality land for agricultural production.

“You don’t have to physically be tilling the dirt to help promote agriculture and a quality food supply,” said Cline.

Hall of Fame award recipients:
Kendall Hill, of Kinston, 2004
Carl Patterson, of China Grove, 2005
Leonard Small, of Edenton, 2006
Brent Jackson, of Autryville, 2007
Bobby Ham, of Snow Hill, 2008
Jimmy Burch, of Faison, 2009