01. What’s Your Background?
I’m Stephanie Pope, Partner and Head of Marketing at Hope & Harmony Farms. Owned and operated by my husband’s family for over a century, our inspiration for running Hope & Harmony Farms stems from continuing a long legacy of integrity and respect for the land. Hope and Harmony Farms is our 5,500-acre family-owned, fourth-generation peanut farm in Drewryville, VA. Producing 1.5 million pounds of the finest Virginia peanuts each year, Hope & Harmony Farms offers the finest quality, super extra-large peanuts that are all home-grown, hand-cooked and hand-packaged on our farm; with a commitment to being all natural, no additives or preservatives, NON-GMO, and Gluten Free. Notably, we’ve been featured on The Cooking Channel with G. Garvin for our famousSouthern Heat-Habanero peanuts. In addition to our peanut farm, we run a thriving e-commerce arm of the business that offers high-end, gourmet peanut products year-round (which I was responsible for launching).More about our story.
I was born and raised in South Hill, Virginia; a town with a population of a whopping 4,541 people. I grew up far from agriculture, with my dad being a civil engineer and my mom being a wonderful domestic engineer (AKA stay at home mom). I grew up quite the stereotypical girly girl; lacking an appreciation for hard work and getting your hands dirty. Like most headstrong teenagers, I was determined to move to the big city and lead a more sophisticated life.
In a quest to lead that life, there were three things that I said I would never do:
- Marry a farmer (how dreadful would that be?)
- Get married in December (why would you want poinsettias at your wedding?)
- Live in a place smaller than South Hill, VA.
What’s that phrase? Oh yes, “never say never.” Fast forward to 1991 when a girl meets a boy and a girl falls in love. With who? You guessed it, a farmer! Well, the son of a farmer, if we’re getting technical.
02. How did you start your business?
For generations, farming these peanuts has sustained the Pope family and our ancestors. My husband’s grandfather and great-grandfather farmed the land with their bare hands. After graduating from Virginia Tech with an agricultural economics degree, my husband felt the call of the family business. After attending college, experiencing the world, and getting married, was it then that we realized that the grass is indeed the greenest in our little part of world. And as it turned out, our whole family came to the same realization and all of us returned home after college. The farm now had (4) families to provide for. We had to get creative on how to make our farm profitable and sustainable for our families & the next generation. Then there was a major change in the peanut industry in 2002 with afarm bill that had a massive impact on peanut farmers; it was no longer profitable for us to continue. That’s when we started the gourmet peanut business and began processing a lot of our own crop. My husband had a light bulb moment: “Hey Steph, why don’t you cook the peanuts we grow and sell them directly to the consumer?”
Mind you, it was 2002 and we had a 3½ year old and a 1½ year old at the time.
But lo and behold, our gourmet peanut business was born.
I would cook, package, and ship peanuts; all with the help of mommy’s little helpers and with a lot of help from my mother-in-law.
And just like that, I became the CEO, chef, packer/shipper, janitor, secretary, and accountant; the Jack (or Jill) of all trades for my family’s business.
Now, I can’t take all of the credit. The Pope boys have been growing the finest Virginia peanuts since the late 1800’s on our 5,500-acre farm in Southampton County, Virginia; long before I entered the picture. Our peanuts are truly the cream of the crop. We grow only the world-famous Virginia jumbo peanut, prized by gourmets everywhere for its impressive size and even more incredible flavor.
03.What inspired you as a creative woman?
The joy of producing an honest crop. During harvest season when the picking has begun, the delicious aroma of peanuts is in the air for miles. Sitting on the porch and watching the sensational sunsets over the fields, listening to the birds and crickets chirp, and the hum of farm equipment being parked for the evening. My favorite: watching the billions of stars light up the sky. There are not many professions where you get a second chance. Farming gives you that gift over and over. Planting season is a second chance year after year. It is a season of great optimism and angst.
Certain growing conditions are needed to succeed; soil temperature and moisture are vital to success and it never goes according to plan. I truly believe that farming is like being in Vegas, it’s one big gamble; not for the faint of heart. Knowing that all of your eggs are in one basket can be too much for some to bear. One bad crop can put you out of business. Most family farms today are generational because of the immense appreciation for the land and its unique lifestyle. It is a lifestyle of back breaking work at times, but with that hard work comes tremendous reward. The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that comes from putting a seed into the dirt, and with water, sun and a lot of hard work, you are able to produce something that is greater than you.
04. What was your first job ever? Any funny or memorable story?
I think it’s only fair that I share a funny story from my first true farm experience: When I first met my husband (the farmer), Jeffrey was an Agricultural Economics major at Virginia Tech with zero desire to return to his hometown of Drewryville, VA, population: 727. That’s not a typo. Fast forward to 1993: two weeks before graduation and Jeffrey tells me he wants to go back to Drewryville to farm.
It was summer time when I moved to Drewryville and there was lots of work to be done on the farm. Jeffrey decided that he was going to grow butter beans to freeze for the winter. High on love, this sounded fun and domestic. Not. It’s important to note here that we had been to a friend’s wedding the night before and we had ourselves a GRAND time. Jeffrey emphasized that we needed to be up early the next morning to pick butter beans before it got too hot. Fun fact: butter beans are picked by hand. Another fun fact: you sit on a five-gallon bucket bent over, picking butter beans for a very, very long time. Well, I was not feeling my best self from our evening out and when the sun began to really beat down….well, let’s just say it was not one of my finest moments.
Nor, was it Jeffrey’s best light bulb moment inviting me to assist with butter bean picking. I was able to compose myself and return to my duties. Jeffrey was then subjected to my rendition of “Green Acres is NOT the place for me” over and over. He gladly sent me packing to the house and has never requested my help in picking again! 22 years and counting.
05.If you won a lottery today, will you still continue to build your business?
Absolutely! But I’d probably enjoy a vacation…or two.
06.Walk us through a day in your life.
It really depends on the day but I’m the CEO, chef, packer/shipper, janitor, secretary, and accountant; the Jack (or Jill) of all trades for my family’s business. One day can look like crafting sales and marketing strategies while the next day is focused on relationship building and business forecasting. I’m constantly pivoting and being flexible so our business can thrive.
07. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Being selected for a feature on The Cooking Channel with G. Garvin for our famous Southern Heat-Habanero peanuts has, hands down, been the highlight of my career. We’ve worked hard to prioritize relationship building and align our brand with influencers and industry experts to boost credibility. As the old adage says, it’s not always what you know but who you know. Relationship building aided us in being featured on The Cooking Channel with G. Garvin and provided a platform for us to get the message out about the farm-to-table qualities, nutritional benefits and culinary versatility of peanuts and peanut products.
09.Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?
While it’s important to stay “present”, I always have goals/am forecasting what the next 6, 12, 18 months, 5 years, etc. will look like in terms of business goals and aspirations.
A few exciting goals I hope to knock out of the park:
(1) Add 3 additional flavors to our Virginia peanut line. (Stay tuned!)
(2) Add additional nut varieties to our line up.
(3) Increase awareness surrounding the health benefits of peanuts and what “Farm to Table” truly means; showing the consumer what goes into the creation of our products from planting, growing, harvesting and processing. Think thought leadership.
Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you
I’d love for the 25-year-old for me to have understood that it’s critical to your business and personal well-being to embrace challenges and not to fear failure. At some point, our society (both professionally and personally) became so paralyzed by the fear of failure that we began to view the experience as a source of shame instead of a source of fresh opportunity to self-reflect and evolve. Use failure as fuel for growth and connection and prioritize positive self-talk through each challenge. Creative solutions come to you when you’re in a tight spot; listen to your intuition and keep a tight focus on what truly matters in the highs and lows of each business season because in the journey of business, those seasons are coming. For any small or family-owned business that has experienced amazing, rapid growth, being able to scale in a sustainable way is a challenge that you’ll face. Businesses of all sizes must have a solid infrastructure and business model established to help secure their place in the market. As we grow, continuing to evolve and adopting more sophisticated digital marketing strategy is also a fantastic challenge that we’re excited about embracing. But it’s the love of growing and maintaining and caring for the land that has been worked by my husband’s family for more than a century that makes the challenges worth it.
The only way to combat failure is to learn from it.