The learning process was moving along on schedule for Vick, but in 2002 fate stepped in and his learning curve became much steeper.

During a trip to Mexico, Jerome Vick contracted a rare virus that resulted in Guillane Barre Syndrome. Though he has made a good recovery from the disease, he spent 165 days in Duke University Hospital — in a coma for a while, and paralyzed from the neck down for a much longer while. This adversity struck in the midst of the 2002 cropping season.

“I remember standing in the emergency room at the hospital, when one of the doctors told my father he had Guillan Barre and asked Dad what he did for a living.

“‘I’m a farmer,’  Dad replied, “and the doctor told him he’d have to take a year off from farming. After the doctor left, I told Dad, ‘That doctor doesn’t know us very well — we don’t let things like this slow us down.’”

For several months, Jerome’s job was survival and Dianne’s job was helping him. Running the sprawling farming operation fell to Linwood and Charlotte, who by that time had added ‘Mom’ to her resume.

Jerome missed the 2002 cropping season, but Vick didn’t. That year the farm produced some of its best crops, and when his father returned home from Duke University Hospital, the farming operation was bigger and more productive than he left it.

At the time Jerome became ill, Vick Family Farms was about 3,500 acres. In the decade since his return to the farm, the operation has almost doubled in size.

In the past few years, Vick Family Farms has won numerous national, state and local awards. Among them are the North Carolina Farm Family of the Year, National Young Farmer of the Year, and designation as a North Carolina Soil Conservation Farm.

A visit to the farming headquarters makes it evident that doing things right is a high priority. Not only the crops are kept in pristine condition, but also the equipment, the sweet potato packing operation and tobacco barns, and even the headquarters building and grounds.

“We were taught to do things right, and to do things timely,” Vick says. “If we do everything we can for a crop and for our land, then Mother Nature will treat us right when she can.”

In the future, farming in general and cotton farming in particular will present many challenges to growers, he says.

“The great thing about farming is that we have the ability to make changes in our operations to overcome these challenges — most of the time.”

Asked about the ultimate challenge of feeding 9 billion people on Earth by 2050, Vick says, “Bring it on! If we can get the right political support, farmers can feed the world — and clothe it too.”