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Unique to area, lifetime farmer grows chickpeas

He hasn’t a clue how it’s going to turn out or how they’re even going to look when they’re grown, but lifetime farmer James Brown says he’s willing to try anything once.

With nearly 300 acres of farmland on Neals Corner Road in Clover, Brown grows tobacco, wheat, corn, soybeans and recently added chickpeas to his fields.

“They asked me would I grow them, and I said I’d try anything one time,” said Brown who attended a demonstration project in Petersburg headed by Virginia State University Extension.

The goal of the project is to determine if Virginia growers can reliably produce chickpeas for hummus makers.

The Clover farmer and his new adventure were featured Monday in a Wall Street Journal story that reported Sabra Dipping Company, a hummus plant in Richmond, is seeking to cultivate a commercial crop of chickpeas in Virginia to reduce its dependence on the main growing region in the Pacific Northwest.

Brown said to get the crop growing, the Halifax County Extension office provided the chickpea seeds and pesticides needed. The Clover farmer has planted four acres of the chickpeas and patiently awaits the outcome.

“I hope I make a good crop and make some money, and next year I’ll plant a little more,” said Brown.

Brown admited he’s going into this experience blind, not knowing whether or not the chickpeas need hot or cold weather, or what the differences will be between his other crops. But he does know the chickpeas are harvested much like corn and wheat.

After he planted his four acres in mid-April, Brown traveled over two hours from his Clover farm home to Petersburg where the chickpeas are harvested and made into hummus in the nearby Sabra plant in Richmond. 

“We all sat down and tasted some. It’s just like a dip,” said Brown.

However, Brown’s wife, Betty, recently cooked some chickpeas and tried them for the first time and didn’t agree with her husband.

“I didn’t like them. They had no taste,” she said.

With the seeds only being in the ground for a few weeks, Brown has had visitors from Maryland, New York and all over the state to come see the farmer who has gotten the chickpeas to grow in Clover.

“I had a lady call me from Maryland who wanted to come and see the chickpeas. I never thought I’d be doing this,” said the proud farmer.

As the inch-long sprouts continue to grow at the farm on Neals Corner Road, Brown said he considers this a learning experience. Luckily the lifetime farmer enjoys farming, and he stays busy. The four acres of chickpeas only take up a portion of his time compared to the rest of the farm.

Brown also has over 30 acres of tobacco he was preparing to plant Thursday, 150 acres of wheat already planted, over 60 acres of soybeans and 40 acres of corn. He also has 40 heads of Black Angus cattle, 10 goats and 20 pigs.

“I stay busy all the time,” admitted Brown.

The thought of retiring hasn’t crossed Brown’s mind for slowing down would mean having to be on a more fixed income, and he’s not fond of that idea.

Previously working at J. P. Stevens, U.S. Plywood and Daystrom, Brown was noted for having the famous name shared with the Godfather of soul.

He recalls his co-workers telling him to, “sing us a song James Brown.” However, Brown said, “I told them I didn’t have time for that.” 

And he doesn’t now either as he makes another name for himself – the chickpea farmer in Clover.

Now he just dedicates all his time to the farm.

 He has been farming all of his life, and his family is excited to see where his new chickpea adventure will take him.

Brown resides in Clover with his wife, Betty, and they have two children, Odessa and James Shelton.