Orange County

Efland farmer reaps rewards of good fight

“There just isn’t much profit to be made on a farm these days,” says Ben Lloyd, standing his soybean field in Efland. “I don’t know but just a handful of people that’s really out making a living on a farm full time. They’ve got to be involved in something else to do that.”
“There just isn’t much profit to be made on a farm these days,” says Ben Lloyd, standing his soybean field in Efland. “I don’t know but just a handful of people that’s really out making a living on a farm full time. They’ve got to be involved in something else to do that.”

The walls of Andrew “Ben” Lloyd Jr.’s home are plastered with memories: him as a young boy dressed in his favorite Navy uniform, family holidays, friends gathered for his 75th birthday party, and a dozen smiling children and grandchildren.

Lloyd, 85, added a new memory in July when Orange County friends, leaders and former colleagues gathered at the Old Courthouse in Hillsborough to watch U.S. Rep. David Price present him with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine and an American flag that had flown over the Washington Monument.

Bill Cobey, chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education, nominated him for the honor at the request of Lloyd’s son, Craig Lloyd. The Order was established in 1963 to recognize a lifetime of service to the state.

“I started looking around and told them I was looking for whoever they’d been talking about,” Ben Lloyd said. “I thought there were other people in the county that deserved that recognition more than I did, and I still think so.”

Price said he was proud to have a role in honoring Lloyd.

“We have been friends for many years, and I know him to be an exceptional public servant and a great asset to Orange County,” Price said. “I can imagine no better way to celebrate his five decades of service than with our state’s highest civilian award.”

Lloyd said he’s more proud of being married to a “perfect mother and wife for 58 years” and the four children and eight grandchildren – soon to be nine – that they raised together.

“I’ve been quite fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had friends that have got kids living in Oregon, California. They see them once a year, maybe at Christmas if they’re lucky ... but I have kids and grandkids in and out of here all the time. My wife left, but I wasn’t left alone.”

Lloyd’s wife, Carrie Camelia Compton Lloyd, died in February at age 82.

“She was an old farmer’s wife,” he said, “but she saw probably as much and maybe much more of the world than most any other farmer’s wife I know of, because I drug her all over the world on tours and so forth.”

Close-knit family

A photo of Camelia Lloyd has a prominent place in the modest ranch house on U.S. 70 in Efland. A son collected flowers from her grave, Lloyd said, sending the petals to a company that dried and embedded them in a thick, glass frame. All the children have a framed photo, Lloyd said.

“That’s quite a tribute to her, in my opinion, that each one of them has got that identical picture in their house,” he said.

Lloyd, a self-described workaholic, dedicated the last few years to caring for his wife, who had Parkinson’s disease, while continuing a generations-long tradition of farming. The current 700-acre farm has supported his family for more than 90 years.

The Efland native, one of six children born to Julia and Andrew Lloyd Sr., grew up just across the highway, in the big white farmhouse where his son Andy Lloyd now lives. Camelia Lloyd was the daughter of tobacco farmers in nearby Cedar Grove.

Three children – Andy; Craig Lloyd, the state director of the N.C. National Guard Association; and Cheryl Humphrey, an interior designer – still live in Orange County. Chad Lloyd, a land acquisition manager with M/I Homes, lives in Charlotte.

Andy is the farmer of the bunch, Lloyd said.

“If he hadn’t been here, this farm would have been sold to somebody for some price 30 years ago,” he said. “But he’s a country boy like me. He’s a farmer. He loves to hunt and fish, and he loves to work outside. Put him in an office, and he wouldn’t last 90 days.”

Simple beginnings

Andrew Lloyd and his brother started Lloyd Brothers Dairy in 1922 on Lloyd’s Farm Road – now Orange Grove Road. They split the dairy business in 1929, after Andrew Lloyd bought his wife’s family homestead on U.S. 70, along with a sawmill, store, outbuildings and 70 acres of land.

His father recruited help to drive those first 20 cows on foot up Orange Grove Road, through Hillsborough and along Old N.C. 10 to the farm, Lloyd said. There weren’t more than 10 acres cleared at the time, he said.

“He would go in and cut down trees with a cross-cut saw, trim them up with an axe, measure off the length that he wanted to build a barn, take it to the sawmill, get it sawed, come back and build a barn,” Lloyd said. “It was all done with hand labor.”

His father probably cleared 20 to 30 acres by hand, Lloyd said, using draft horses to pull the plow or rake in the hay. The farm’s first tractor – an F20 International – had iron wheels and steel cleats for digging into the dirt. The first tractor to have rubber tires didn’t arrive until the 1940s, he said.

They hauled the milk to Durham for many years in 10-gallon cans tucked into the back of a 1929 Chevrolet pickup truck. Years later, they added a 2,000-gallon, refrigerated tank to the farm, he said.

Life wasn’t all work, Lloyd said. Members of the small farming community had fun lazing in local swimming holes and fishing in one of many local creeks. They’d pitch horseshoes, play baseball and take the dogs on possum hunts, he said.

“When we could scrape up enough money … my daddy and (his friends’ daddy) would put us in that old milk truck and take us to Mebane to a movie on Saturday night,” he said. “It probably cost 20, 25 cents apiece.”

Lloyd left the farm in 1949 to study at N.C. State University in Raleigh. He returned home the next year, to help manage the farm until he shipped out in June 1954 with 17 other North Carolinians who had enlisted in the Navy.

In the Navy

The next three years were spent in a Seabee construction battalion at the Coronado amphibious naval base in California. Lloyd married his wife in December 1956, just months before the Navy shipped him back East to Norfolk, Va.

Since his discharge, Lloyd has visited his former station near San Diego twice. He’s tracked down 15 of his original Navy buddies from North Carolina, and they’ve stayed in touch, he said.

In July, he and his son Chad, who was a naval intelligence officer, revisited their old base in Norfolk. Price helped set up the tour, Lloyd said. Their guide – to their suprise – was a retired Navy chief who did not know Chad but had served with him on the USS George Washington.

It’s been one of life’s “genuine pleasures” to reconnect with old friends, Lloyd said.

“When you have two men ... that live together, work together, fight together, sleep together, they form a camaraderie and a bond that is unbreakable,” he said. “The love and respect that they end up with for each other is an unbreakable bond.”

Changing times

Lloyd and his wife returned to the farm in 1958, and Lloyd bought the land from his father over the next two decades. His mother died in 1978; his father followed in 1983, he said.

“The day that I lost my daddy, I lost the best friend I had, too,” he said.

He started other businesses along the way – a couple of service stations, a carnation distributor, an artificial insemination service for cattle and a car wash that’s still in operation – and built a new dairy north of U.S. 70 that grew their 50-cow herd to nearly 160. They turned to producing grains in 2002, he said.

“You can’t pay $12, $15 an hour for (dairy) farm labor, although we always furnished a house for them to live in, they had a garden and we … filled their freezers full of beef,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be able for a number of years to get some top employees here, but they just didn’t exist anymore.”

The cows are gone, but the farm today produces about 25 to 30 acres of hay, 40 to 50 acres of corn and up to 190 acres of soybeans, he said. Grain prices, however, are falling – from $8 to $4.50 in one year for a bushel of corn and from $15.65 to $10.23 for a bushel of soybeans.

Only a handful of dairies remain in Orange County, Lloyd said, down from about 120 in 1970.

“I’m sitting here with a 700-acre farm, all the equipment in the world we need to raise crop to provide for cows, and I have a son that’s here on the farm. But I’m involved in some other business (because) you have to be involved in something else to support the farm these days.”

Compelled to lead

Lloyd also grew, somewhat reluctantly, he said, into the role of a community leader.

The lifelong member of Efland United Methodist Church served on the Orange-Alamance Water System board of directors for 44 years. He was the first president and a founding member of the Efland Ruritan Club, was instrumental in starting the Efland Fire Department and rescue squad, and is a former member of the N.C. Milk Commission and the Dairymen Inc. board of directors.

I expressed the concern that if they didn’t include the people that were going to be planned for, there would be trouble down the road.

Ben Lloyd

But it was Orange County’s 1976 approval of its largest-ever property tax increase that really caught his attention. He met with some of the county’s largest landowners – mostly farmers – to form the Orange County Farm and Landowners Association, a government watchdog group.

Orange County was starting to plan for its future, Lloyd said, but its rural landowners and farmers weren’t part of the conversation.

“One of the very fine members of the Planning Board at that time made the comment … that people from the rural, agricultural section of Orange County don’t have the expertise to properly plan for themselves. They need us experts doing it for them,” Lloyd said.

“Right then is when my public and political activity started,” he said.

“I expressed the concern that if they didn’t include the people that were going to be planned for, there would be trouble down the road.”

Supporters pushed him to run for county commissioner, and he did, Lloyd said, serving on the board from 1982 to 1986. Orange County didn’t have the money to pay its bills back then, he said.

Commerce Department officials visiting from Raleigh suggested making better use of the county’s road and rail networks “to attract good, clean, high-paying, low-water-using, non-polluting economic growth,” he said. They told him the county wasn’t on the state’s list of places for new companies to consider, he said, because its leadership hadn’t shown much interest or cooperation for nearly two decades.

“That has continued until today,” he said. “I’ve always been – not for rampant growth – but good, clean growth. If you live in Orange County and you wanted a decent job, you either work for the government or you work for the university.”

The resulting growth in property taxes continues to push out retirees and native residents, he said.

“Now, the pendulum is starting to swing some toward more reasonable regulations, and I hope it continues,” he said, “to where Orange County can be opened up for good economic growth to provide jobs and funds to run the government on.”

Fighting for right

Lloyd said he considers the decline of small farms one of the nation’s biggest threats. While Orange County is trying to address the issue by allowing more farm-based businesses, such as roadside stands, he said, the average farmer is aging and too many rules have created barriers to the young.

There’s nothing wrong with planning or zoning, he said, so long as it’s tempered with common sense and landowner rights.

“If the people that made the rules and regulations had to adhere to those regulations, they would agree they were dumb as hell,” he said.

It’s that willingness to speak his mind and do what’s needed that made Lloyd “one of the stalwarts of the rural Orange community,” Cobey said.

“He presents what I think is a real strength of America, and that is the rural farming communities, in a large part, they are the backbone of our country,” Cobey said. “These are the people who produce the food and the fiber, and get up early and work long days.”

Lloyd said his goal has always been to fight for what was right and to oppose what was wrong. He doesn’t plan to stop doing either, he said.

“That’s sort of my philosophy, and I see no reason to change it at 85 years of age,” he said. “It worked out pretty good so far.”