On sure ground: The Rutledge u-pick farm

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When we arrive at the Rutledge Farms pavilion in Crystal Springs after a brief summer shower, Elsie Rutledge is checking the rain gauge.

“Four-tenths of an inch,” she tells me when I ask, her accent hard to pinpoint. Outfitted in an apron, Crocs, and a sun visor, she has the lean frame typical of hard workers. When Elsie adds that they “would’ve taken three times that”, her husband O.H., who is standing nearby, can’t help but point out this year’s rain dance.

“May was 12 inches above normal,” he states, and she nods knowingly. Fifty years of marriage and an equal number of growing seasons together has given them plenty of occasions for such conversation (and nods). For longer than most locals can remember, the couple has run Copiah County’s premier u-pick farm – 300 acres of peanuts, sweet corn, southern field peas, snap beans, squash, cucumber, okra, and more.

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I have picked at Rutledge Farms many times, but on this afternoon I am after more than pinkeye purple hull peas. I am after a story. Mr. Rutledge obliges.

“I’m O.H.,” the 73-year-old starts out. “Well, at least I’m what’s left of him.”

It is a good beginning, and in due course he tells me key components in his story: he was born across the road (he points to a spot west of his home and operational headquarters on Rutledge Road), followed in his father’s farming footsteps, and came to love Elsie, 19-year-old bank employee of German descent, after a long-distance letter writing courtship.

O.H., like his wife, wears signs of hard work – his is the need for both a belt and suspenders. There are other clues as well, but I am most interested in the crisscrossed Band-Aids topping the knuckles of his left hand.

“Well, you see, that came about when we were getting a tire off of a rim,” he recalls, going into a few other details before ending with the real explanation. “My hand was the anvil.”

The couple started out with some 120 acres of land bought from relatives, then expanded their holdings through the years to a current 900 acres. “The biggest portion of that is in trees and stumps,” O.H. tells me, adding that the corn fields he’s owned for 25 years were once an old airstrip. “It was for emergencies during the war in case someone bombed the air base in Jackson,” he explains.

While we talk, two ladies drive up to pay for what they’ve picked. The contents of several five-gallon buckets filled with crowder peas and speckled butter beans are dumped and tallied as the ladies wait, tired and muddy. One wears a back support device. They ask about the sweet corn situation and are told that most of the bicolor was pulled last week.

I am surprised to discover that the u-pick options are offered from daylight to dark, nearly year round. “We do peanuts and greens,” comes the explanation. “We also stock several hundred pounds of dry peas to buy or plant,” O.H. states.

But don’t come on Sunday. The Rutledges are devout Southern Methodists who close their business on the Lord’s Day and believe in repairing, make-doing, and the avoidance of debt. “There’s a reason why so many farms go under. We started small and grew. I’ve found that it’s better to work on old trucks and tractors and be on sure ground,” O.H. says.

That he’s able to restore and repair equipment is due in large part to a general machine shop course O.H. took at Co-Lin in 1961. “It was the first year they had it,” he recalls.

O.H. has been careful to pass on those skills to his son, Edward, who manages the farm alongside his parents. “One of our main motivations through the years has been to keep it in the family,” Elsie shares. “We don’t hire labor. What our family can’t do doesn’t get done.”

Grandchildren are in the mix, too, selling the yield from their own patches. A tray of okra I take home is the fruit of such labors, as well as a box of tomatoes. The tomatoes come in at exactly 25 pounds on a scale bearing the red Mississippi sticker, a certification by the state agricultural department declaring that the Rutledge family’s vintage Toledo model is still weighing true.

Old and true and certifiable, those scales seem a fitting centerpiece for this u-pick operation. For the latest information concerning crop availability, call Rutledge Farms at 601-894-2401 or visit them on Facebook.


Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.