Carson King has been farming up on Bent Mountain for as long as he can remember.
"I doubt if I'm gonna do anything else," said King. "When I get where I can't do this, that'll be it for me."
What he grows he sells at his fruit market along Route 221 where he sees more and more new faces everyday.
"You come to buy from the farmers and you're getting fresh stuff," said King. "At the grocery store, they've been shipped in from other farms away from here."
Jon Vest, an Agriculture Agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, says the growing popularity of that "farm to table" concept is helping to fuel the state's agriculture industry.
"There's a real interest anymore to know where your food comes from," said Vest. "Or have the ability to participate in an ag tourism event or an agricultural activity back on the farm."
Coupled with advances in technology that have made farming more efficient, he says the farm sector has blossomed into a $55 billion industry that's showing no signs of slowing down.
"Virginia is becoming more and more productive in agriculture," said Vest.
The numbers show that's been the case in Southwest Virginia. WSLS 10 looked at USDA Agriculture Census Data from 2002 and 2007 (the two most recent reports) for 12 counties in our region. You can see all of the information by scrolling to the bottom of this story.
Those 12 counties represent approximately 3.9 million acres of total land. In 2007, 1.4 million acres -- or 37 percent of it -- was used by farms. That's fewer acres than were used by farms in 2002. However, the number of farms has actually increased. In 2007, there were 8,928 farms in that area -- 279 more than there were in 2002.
"We have many, many small farms that are in that nine, ten, homestead size operations in terms of acreage," said Vest.
The growth is even more apparent when you look at the money they're bringing home. In 2007, the total value of all the products those farms sold was $295.3 million. That's an increase of $62 million from 2002.
Several counties saw huge growth during that span. Franklin County posted a 48 percent increase, Floyd County saw a 32 percent increase, and Campbell County was up 63 percent.
"We've only seen increases really in the economic value coming back," said Vest.
When the 2012 numbers are released, Vest says he expects those upward trends to continue -- and hopes people will continue to appreciate farms like King's for many more years to come.
Though sometimes under appreciated, experts say Virginia's agriculture industry is a force to be reckoned with. The more than 47,000 farms in the Commonwealth have a $55 billion economic impact -- and they're showing no signs of slowing down.
Virginia ranks in the top 10 states for production of crops like tomatoes, apples, and potatoes. Several counties in Southwest Virginia lead the state in production of dairy and Christmas trees, among other things.
SCROLL DOWN FOR STATS FROM 12 LOCAL COUNTIES
Jon Vest, an Agriculture Agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, says the number of farms in Virginia continues to rise -- particularly new, smaller farms. He says not only has technology made it easier to grow crops and raise livestock, but the farm to table concept has become extremely popular, driving people to buy directly from local farms.
"Absolutely the safety issues with your food and knowing where your food comes from has driven a lot of interest in being able to locate or have a personal idea of this is where my tomatoes are being grown or this is where my grass fed beef is being raised," said Vest.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the industry employs more than 350,000 people across the state and that every one job created in agriculture or forestry supports another 1.5 jobs elsewhere in Virginia's economy.
"It's nice to see that we're able to protect and maintain or sustain the agriculture we do have," said Vest.
Tonight at WSLS 10 at 6, we'll take a closer look at the economic value of farming here in Southwest Virginia and break down exactly how much farm land we have.