BACK BAY — A few years back, state Del. Barry Knight sold must of the land for his original hog farm in Back Bay, which he built from a small operation founded in his 20s into the largest independent hog farming operation in Virginia, and he even expanded to a large modern operation in Blackwater in the 1990s.
Standing outside his large garage, which doubles at his district office, he showed a visitor where a hog farm used to be.
“I don’t own anything, really, past this ditch anymore,” he said.
The Blackwater operation kept going. It most recently raised thousands of hogs for Smithfield Foods. Knight said he sold the last of his hogs a few weeks ago. He doesn’t want to rent the buildings. He might sell eventually.
It’s a milestone for the county, where Knight said hogs once outnumbered people, but only smaller hog farms remain. Of course, it is a major change for Knight, who as a young man made a name for himself as a farmer and, even today, speaks with pride about aspects of the work, such as walking the farm with a careful eye on the livestock’s condition.
Knight drove a reporter to the Blackwater farm. Along the way, he discussed properties he has bought and protected through the agricultural reserve program meant to limit development and ensure that agricultural land is used for agriculture. He said he is proud that this land is there, that much of it is being farmed.
His path to farming wasn’t handed down, as some are. As a boy, he developed a knack for trapping muskrats. This brought him to the attention of Alex Brown, a dairy farmer.
Knight did some trapping for him at his farm at Kempsville Road and Centerville Turnpike. An area near the intersection is now a neighborhood. It’s called Alexandria.
Brown asked him back to work after high school. Knight said the farmer offered to let him work acres and equipment –including the hog house.
“I’d buy 100 feeder pigs,” Knight said, meaning hogs bought at about 45 pounds to be raised raise to market weight. There were crops, too. Knight also drove a truck.
“I wanted to be a farmer,” Knight said. “I didn’t think it would be attainable.”
He kept at it.
“I salted away,” he said.
Over time, raised hogs, got land and grew his business.
From 1984 to 1990, Knight was president of the Tidewater Pork Producers. He also served on the Virginia Pork Board under the Allen and Gilmore administrations. Among a number of accolades, he was Virginia Young Farmer of the Year in 1983 and Virginia Beach Man of the Year in Agriculture in 1998.
Blackwater land came along, and, in the early 2000s, the refuge wanted to buy his Back Bay farm, which included a stretch of Nanneys Creek.
He kept farming in Blackwater.
Smithfield Foods contacted him about becoming a contract grower.
Knight, a Republican, served on the city planning commission before he first won office in 2008 after then-Del. Terrie Suit left the 81st House District seat and urged him to run.
Planning commission aside, he said he’d never considered political office, but he thought he could represent his neighbors.
Now his hogs are sold, but he is still a member of the General Assembly. He may get more involved in issues that impact hog farmers. Knight serves on the agriculture, Chesapeake and natural resources committee, as well as that committee’s agriculture subcommittee.
He said he left hog farming because he could afford to turn down a big agribusiness. He said other farmers cannot pass, even when a big business squeezes them.
Knight said he’d avoided possible conflicts due to his specific business, but he might now address issues in the industry.
“I have gotten out of the hog business,” the delegate said.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC