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Granville Farmer Hopes to Harvest a Profit with Tomatoes

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OXFORD — Tobacco is not as "golden" as it used to be, so one farmer decided to leave the leaves behind and plant tomatoes. Now, he is in the green.

Tomatoes may not be the answer for everyone, but one man is betting the farm on it.

For generations, the golden leaf, tobacco, was the only thing that grew in some of the rolling fields of Granville County.

Now, those fields are ruby red. Tomatoes are the hope for a harvest of profit.

"I'd say it's a good alternative, but it is not as easy as everybody thinks it is. We have to keep an eye on quality. We have to keep a constant eye on irrigation," said farmer Lonnie Wright.

It was tough for Wright to abandon tobacco, a crop that put food on his table and put his kids through school.

Times have changed. With the anti-smoking movement, quota cuts and the tobacco settlement, Wright says it is time to abandon tradition and concentrate on making money.

"If a person is willing to pay the price, and the price is very severe, to toe the line on quality and touch all the bases and willing to go through the learning curve as we have done, you might could make something at it," explained Wright.

Wright sells his tomatoes to major grocery store chains in the Triangle.

"A guy like Lonnie is very important to Hannaford. We try to source our product as locally as possible to the stores that we are serving to. It's a fresher product for the public," said buyer Art Ames.

"I don't know if the easy dollar isn't still in tobacco, but there is a limit to how much tobacco we can grow. We choose to grow a few tomatoes," said Wright.

No one knows if tomatoes are the answer, but Wright is giving it a try.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Jim Young, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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