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The Wright Way

Two generations work together to preserve farming heritage
Story and photos by: Sarah Geyer 5/26/2020

 

Tommy Wright, center, with his sons, Grady, left, and Will, right.
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Tommy Wright and his sons, Grady III and Will, are understandably proud of the impressive entrance they’ve created for their family’s Wright Way Farms. Just to the left of the Fayetteville farm’s main drive stands a 38,000-pound boulder that is distinctly shaped like Lincoln County. With the addition of a dedication plaque, the monument is as a fitting symbol of the family’s rock-solid foundation of love and devotion to this Century Farm. 


Tommy’s great-grandmother, Louisa Wright, established the Wright family’s agricultural roots when she purchased a few acres of farmland in 1882. Over the next several decades, as land became available, she purchased additional tracts, eventually expanding the family farm to 350 acres. Unfortunately, the family lost some 100 acres of the original parcel during the Depression, but Tommy and his sons have since been able to purchase 88 of those acres back. 


It’s no wonder they want to reclaim as much of the original acreage as possible. The farm is chock full of reminders of the family history — concrete blocks made by his father and uncles, the storm cellar of his great-grandmother’s home built in 1886, and a cemetery with a few dozen gravestones dating back to the late 1700’s that the family restored and protected with wrought iron fencing.  


There are also remnants of past farming ventures, including an old hog parlor, a shed where the milk barn used to stand, and on the hillside that was once the home for his uncle’s vineyard, there are a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch, and an historic tobacco barn converted for hay storage. 


“Just about everything has been raised on this farm,” says the Lincoln Farmers Co-op customer. “After we lost tobacco in the mid-1980s, we began producing commercial cattle and hay.”


That changed in the early ‘90s when Will returned home after studying animal science at Berry College and developing a deeper understanding of the business-side of farming. 


“I guess that’s when he began pushing for us to go with only Angus,” he says. “We had been building the herd through natural breeding until about two or three years ago. That’s when I started using artificial insemination to improve the herd’s genetics.”


Will, who serves as the farm’s manager, has also led the charge to improve the family’s land, creating waterways, planting trees, and building soil fertility as part of his conservation efforts. Recently, Grady has added row crops to the operation, planting a few acres of corn and soybeans on the farm. 


Tommy helps out on the farm, but at 71, he says he’s satisfied to leave the business side of farming to his sons. 


“It’s just an expensive hobby for me,” he says with a chuckle. “Instead of golfing or fishing, I’d rather be on the farm. I can be down and out and everything going wrong, and go out there and feed the cows and look at them. They don’t argue back with me.”


He may have taken a backseat on the farm, but Tommy continues to oversee the family’s other business, Wright Paving Contractors. Both Will and Grady also play a role in that enterprise, which was developed as a collaboration between Tommy and his father, Grady, Jr., in 1973.


“After three or four years, Dad got out of it and ran for road superintendent,” says Tommy. “And, like a fool, I took the paving side of it, and went on.”


Tommy’s wife of 51 years, Norma, began helping out in the paving business’ office and continues to play an important role in the company’s day-to-day operations. Today, the Wrights manage 20 trucks and 50 employees out of their Fayetteville home office and produce their own asphalt in facilities in Shelbyville and Pottsville. 


“The paving company is our bread and butter, but farming is in our hearts,” says Will. “Getting to work with family is really a dream for all of us.”


It’s a dream that will soon extend to the next generation. Grady and wife Patty have three children: Grady IV, 23; Eli, 20, and Libby, 18. 


“The oldest will be graduating [from Lincoln Memorial University] in May, and he plans to come back to work with us in the company and on the farm,” says Tommy. “We’re hoping that between the three of them, we’ve got somebody who will want to take it over.”


 
 
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