I began this project while on the photo staff of the Winston-Salem Journal. It became a turning point in my 10-year career at the paper and opened my eyes to the possibilities away from the medium of a newspaper. I had worked on many other self-driven essays at the paper, but this one was different. Somehow I knew this would be a story that was part of my life. And the Hunters became part of my family along the way.
From Left: Grady Hunter, the family patriarch, Brent Hunter and Landon Hunter.
Landon rubs his eyes while driving tractor in fields early in the morning.
After being up for several hours, young Landon rests against his mothers shoulder.
Jessica used the farm as her backyard, usually playing with the family pets or aggravating her brother Landon.
Here, Jessica tries to get Landon to play.
Landon helps his Dad fix one of the farm tractors.
Brent's wife, Leshia takes a rest while driving tractor while workers prime tobacco.
While most kids their age may spend summer break at a local pool, Landon and Jessica find other ways to cool off while working on the farm.
Early morning light peeks through tobacco leaves.
Brent hunter uses the tractor bucket to rest on while Landon and Jessica play around him.
Jessica and Leshia compare height as Brent and Landon load up tobacco in new curing barn
Migrant workers are silhouetted while harvesting tobacco.
Brent and his Father, Grady Hunter try to get the best price for their tobacco at auction house.
About six months after the story was published, I ran into Grady Hunter, the patriarch of the family, and found out he had been diagnosed with Lung Cancer and had already undergone two chemotherapy treatments. Grady Hunter was not only the family's patriarch, but also a major political player in North Carolina that stood for Tobacco farmers. I decided to go back to the farm and follow Grady's progression. Here Grady is at Dr. Office for check up.
Grady had developed problems with his balance. His wife, Nell was at his side through all the Dr. appointments and treatments.
Unable to get out and help Brent and Landon with the farm, Grady watches them through window of his house.
The cancer progressed quickly. Here the family is called to his bedside to wait for the inevitable.
Nell says her goodbyes to her husband of more than 40 years.
Nell and Jessica shell beans on front porch of Nell's home
Landon surveys early tobacco after a week of rain and flooding. Landon is now his father's right hand man on the farm after the death of Grady.
Migrant workers load end of season tobacco in barns.
Loading into the barns.
Brent goes through new check list required for tobacco contract. In just the past year, he had to invest in new gas operated curing barns and new government quotas for the farm.
On a hot summer afternoon, Brent works in the fields alone while Landon is in school.
Leshia talks to one of the migrant workers while waiting for Brent. The hunters had used the same migrant family for over 15 years and considered them an extension of their own family.
On one of my recent visits to the farm, I asked how Brent was handling his father's death. He said, " well, I keep finding myself trying to play catch up, I can't seem to get thing's organized. I not only lost my Daddy, but I lost my Partner.
Hunter Farms also raises a small head of cattle. Here, Landon is helping his parents give shots to a cow.
Jessica blows bubbles with her gum while overseeing Brent and Landon work on a fence.
Work soon turns to play as Landon and Jessica wrestle with one of the farm dogs.
Landon learns to drive Farm trucks before he is old enough to get his license. His side kick, a new cattle dog on the farm gets some affection from Landon.
Leshia and Brent have a playful conversation. It appears they are arguing, but this was their usual mode of picking with each other.
Brent plays around with one of the many cats on the farm.
Late night loading in.
My last visit to the farm was in 2011. This project has been a continuing thread in my life for more than 15 years. Hopefully one day, it will find it's way into a published book.