When Bernie Pringle started farming at age 16, the United States was neck-deep in the Great Depression; Jim Crow had black America by the throat and the struggle to survive left little time to imagine the startling changes time would bring.
But Mr. Pringle, who was honored by the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) last weekend, said he learned that hard work and a solid early marriage are the keys to making a successful living on the land. And he is still farming, with his "good wife," Pearl Francis Pringle, of 72 years still at his side -- proof of his own wisdom.
The NBFA honored Mr. Pringle for his exceptional longevity and endurance at its 23rd annual conference in Columbia, South Carolina.
"We can all learn from the 94-year-old black farmer who has seen a lot and is full of wisdom," NBFA President John W. Boyd, said in presenting the "Oldest Farmer" award to Mr. Pringle, of Sumter, South Carolina.
Hundreds of famers from throughout the South gathered to explore issues including loss of black-owned land, gaining credit at conventional banks and access to federal programs in the Farm Bill, and other persistent farming concerns.
Of high interest at this year's gathering was the long-awaited federal payments to black farmers to settle a decades-old lawsuit over racial discrimination in federal farm loans. $1.25 billion is being distributed to some 18,000 black farmers. Some members have encountered scam artists seeking to exploit farmers by charging $100 to have them included in the payments after the fact."Nothing is farther from the truth," Boyd said.
Boyd said such negative developments made the Pringles' story "a breath of fresh air at the NBFA conference." On the farm, they have raised tobacco, peanuts, cotton, corn and soybeans. He went from plowing with a mule to plowing with a tractor. He emphasized his wife's importance to his success, recalling how they waited late into the night at a judge's house to be wed.
This is it after 30 years of fighting, protesting and lobbying Congress. Checks are finally being sent out to deserving black farmers. There is NO new application period. He said those trying to take advantage of black farm families "should be ashamed of themselves. It's a horrible disservice to elderly, black farmers.
"'What do you want at this time of night?'" the judge asked when he finally got home. "'I want to get married," Mr. Pringle said he answered. "'Well you must want to get married mighty badly,'" the judge told him.
"Yes," the young Mr. Pringle said, "I do." But it was also a life of hard work that kept him going, he added. "You have to work hard, and hard work never hurt no one... Young folks want everything right now. Life just don't work that way."
One special reward of his longevity, Mr. Pringle said was living to see "a black man in the White House. I never thought I would see that in my life time."
"Farmers get little respect, and black farmers even less respect," Boyd said, citing Mr. Pringle as an example of the dignity and pride that is rightfully due farmers. "We should remind ourselves farmers feed the world. Many people today do not even know where our food comes from."
Boyd said Mr. Pringle "who does not look a day older than 60, sheds light on an occupation that has many rewards." The 80-year farmer echoed that view, saying. "I'm gonna leave this earth the way I come -- farming."