Allen Eubanks’ family has been farming since the early 1900s, after his grandfather, Pat Eubanks, was granted land in 1896 through the Homestead Act. Pat Eubanks grew peas, watermelon and butter beans, until Allen’s father, Charlie Eubanks, took over and began growing corn, soybeans and wheat. Then in 1992, Allen and his wife, Janice, established Eubanks Produce in Lucedale, where they grew watermelon and a mixed bag of vegetables. Back then, the Eubanks’ farm measured less than 100 acres. Today, the farm boasts 2,800 acres and the title as the largest fruit and vegetable farm in the state.
Eubanks Produce harvests a cornucopia of fruits – ranging from watermelon to cantaloupe – and vegetables including squash and sweet corn. The farm yields about 7,500 cantaloupe and 45,000 pounds of watermelons per acre, as well as 20,000 pounds of squash, 18,000 pounds of sweet corn, 40,000 pounds of tomatoes and 35,000 pounds of bell peppers per acre, among others. Eubanks says the farm’s meteoric growth can mostly be attributed to “a lot of trial and error, learning and growing slowly and steadily, and a lot of help and support from family and friends.”
Technology and innovative production practices have also given rise to that success. Eubanks says the farm operates on 100 percent drip irrigation, which keeps the water at optimal levels, greatly reducing water waste while increasing plant productivity and crop quality. “We also use plastic mulch, and we double crop most everything,” he says of the additional measures he takes to conserve water and maximize production efficiency. Eubanks says technology, such as nutrient tracking using GPS and the use of handheld computers to track labor data, has become increasingly important to the farm, which stretches across six counties in Mississippi and Alabama. “We have both our locations linked together for real-time info and inventory,” he says. “Technology manages our inventory, accounts payable and receivable, and payroll,” Janice Eubanks says. “Allen was manually writing checks for workers. Now our crews can enter their hours in the fields. We can trace our products, too, which retailers expect in case there’s a recall.”
Eubanks’ success earned him the prestigious Mississippi Farmer of the Year Award in 2015, honoring – among other things – the farm’s dedication to food safety. “We strive to provide a 100 percent safe and nutritious product,” Eubanks says. “We have a full-time food safety director who is on the cutting edge of any new practices.” The farm was the first in the state to enlist a food safety director. The award also recognized the fourth-generation farmer’s ability to market his crops directly to consumers and wholesale customers. “Through the years, we have discovered the best marketing plan is to sell as close to home as possible and as direct as possible to the end user,” Eubanks says.
Eubanks was one of the first farms in the state to sign a contract with Wal-Mart to provide watermelon to its local and regional retail stores. Today, the farm sells more than 150,000 watermelons to the retail giant along with strawberries and other produce. Eubanks packages and sells to several major retail chains in the South, as well as directly to consumers at the Lucedale Farmers Market and through its agritourism outlet, Charlie’s U-Pik. Charlie Eubanks opened up 10 acres of tomatoes to the public in the mid 1990s. Charlie’s U-Pik now offers pick-and-carry beans, potatoes, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and a number of other fruits and vegetables each summer on more than 100 acres. Allen’s older children, Andrew and Allison, have assumed much of the managing roles continuing the family tradition.
“We get people from all walks of life,” Eubanks says. “Some are entertained by learning how things grow, while others are there for the value and to fill their freezers.” The U-pick site is surely an educational tool for consumers – as are the farm-to-table dinners the farm hosts as fundraisers for local charities, and the Farm to School program that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias. “We try to appeal to a diverse customer base in a variety of ways to encourage consumption of fresh and healthy produce,” Eubanks says. “It also capitalizes on the agritourism movement by introducing youth to agricultural crops and production methods.”