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August 28, 2009   Email to Friend 

OYFF's McHughs Seek Remedy For Ailing Gulf Creek Farm
By Darryal Ray

Rob and Angie McHugh with sons Cove (2) and Ridge (6).
Sponsored each year by the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Outstanding Young Farm Family Awards Program recognizes young farmers between the ages of 17 and 35 who do an outstanding job in farm, home and community activities. Division winners representing 11 commodities were selected in February. Of those, six finalists will compete for the title of overall Outstanding Young Farm Family for 2009. The winner, who will be named at the Federation's 88th Annual Meeting in December, will receive a John Deere Gator, courtesy of the Federal Land Bank of Alabama, $500 cash from Dodge, the use of a new vehicle and other prizes and will go on to compete at the national level for a new Dodge Ram 3500.

"Everything happens for a reason," Rob McHugh says as he goes down the list of calamities that have beset his farm over the past several months.

But, he admits, it may take awhile before he can determine what that reason is.

All he knows for certain is that less than a year after he and wife Angie and sons Ridge (6) and Cove (2) were named finalists in the Alabama Farmers Federation's Outstanding Young Farm Family contest, not much remains of Gulf Creek Farm.

At least, not in the way most people remember it. Rob can't even tell you which direction the farm is headed, but believes an answer may rest on the shady banks of the creek that winds through 11 of his 40 acres. If not there, well, maybe the answer will come to him in a song. After all, the troubles that have hit the McHughs this year is the kind of stuff of which country music songs are written.

First, there were two spring storms, one which ripped some plastic off his five greenhouses and a second one which stripped off all the plastic, bent and twisted the metal frames and killed all but a few of the plants inside. Before he could use it, the new plastic he had purchased was stolen along with three barrels of compost.

The soaking spring rains also kept him out of the fields longer than usual. When he was finally able to plant, he discovered his landlord's son had returned home and, unaware of the lease agreement, planted a garden -- complete with fertilizer -- in the organic tomato field. "It's this high in weeds," Rob says holding his hand about waist-high.

He doesn't intend to rebuild the greenhouses he bought on impulse in 2003 when Angie sent him to buy some hanging baskets to put on the porch. Today, the greenhouses that once housed 11,000 square feet of begonias, impatiens, petunias and hanging baskets stand abandoned, their steel skeletons bent and twisted and slowly vanishing amid waist-high weeds.

"Between the storms and the drought, it hasn't made enough money to make the payment on it," Rob says. "They were fine the first couple of years, and then people started stealing everything over there."

On top of it all, Rob continues to battle a muscular condition diagnosed six years ago as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease -- a diagnosis he now disputes. "I'm pretty sure now that's not what it is," he says. "After all the stuff I've read, I'm pretty sure that's not what it is. But I don't know what it is." Whatever it is, it sent Rob surfing the Internet in hope of finding an answer. It was a search that led him, first, to organics and then, to yet another discovery -- medicinal herbs.

Before long, he realized that the creek running through his farmland was covered in wild plants such as Poly Pody, Stinging Nettle, dandelion and common plantain. These plants sometimes are used as herbal remedies for a wide range of ailments. Making a few phone calls, Rob now believes he's found a buyer in North Carolina.

If it works, he could literally be singing his way to the bank -- Rob just signed a recording contract with a large independent label.

"I had written a couple of songs and put them on my MySpace page, and they heard it and called me," says Rob.

Crossroads, a contemporary Christian album that's a blend of country and Southern rock, is to debut later this year. If it sells 2,500 units, the company will offer Rob a multi-album deal.

"I've been singing for 14 years now, and with everything that's happened, that was one thing I could always do to make a little bit of money," says Rob. "I just figured that was God's way of telling me, 'Hey, you ought to be doing this and not that.'"

Still, Rob says he plans to remain an ambassador for farming. "I don't think I'll ever give it up all together just because of the kids. They like seeing how things grow," he says. "Before, we had ag classes out to the farm and showed them how it was done. Now, I have to go tell them how it's done. But everything happens for a reason.

That's how I look at this stuff -- it all happens for a reason."



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