Keep Climbing (June 4, 2014)

— Written By Barclay Poling and last updated by
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person standing on top of a mountain

It is with heavy heart that I must share the sad news of John Vollmer’s passing yesterday afternoon. The NC Strawberry Association is planning a full tribute to Farmer John in next month’s newsletter. Since his passing yesterday afternoon, several of us have been sharing our remembrances of John. I had contacted Mike Wilder this early morning to see if he had some photos of John, and I was especially touched  by what Mike wrote back to me:

Even though I have hundreds of pictures of his plants over the years, I can only find 2 recently taken when you last visited. (attached) Likely not worthy of putting on a memorial page, but thought you might like them anyway. One is of John and Russ, the other is John looking on when you were demonstrating the new low tunnels.

As far as comments, I could go on forever since I grew up on the 3rd small farm down from his family’s farm – he and my Daddy were friends and neighbors, so many, many things to tell. Even on the site where my 56 year old house now stands his childhood home once stood… But here’s a brief snapshot:  

John was a farmer, but just as much so he was a teacher. He shared everything he knew with anyone who wanted to learn. He knew the secret to success was in sharing, not witholding. My strawberry education began in his field many years ago with Dr. Barclay Poling standing beside him. I think John’s first lesson was:  “Mike, this is a Chandler. And this variety is Sweet Charlie.”  And so it began…

UNC’s 1999 Tarheel Bus Tour, on which The Vollmer Farm was one of their stops. 


I shared with Mike and several other friends this morning my thoughts about John:

For me, John was my career-long mentor. Even after my retirement in 2010 he continued to encourage me to work on the problems of our industry. Plant supply was always a great concern of John’s and I think John was very proud of the Plant Health Mini Symposium we put on in March of last year. You always got the sense with John that there was no problem we could not tackle together. He had a special gift for keeping me in line. As my wife often says to me, “you’re not easy.”

He had a remarkable gift for bringing out the best in all of us. He made us better people and a better industry. I think his final words of advice to me and our industry would be to keep working together, and don’t stop climbing.

But, he would also say don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way! I will never forget one of my more recent trips to John’s farm when he made sure that before I looked at any strawberry plants, that we take time to visit with some of his very devoted farm workers. That was John!



11:17 a.m. – a note from Donnie Fulks, Belvedere Plantation, Fredericksburg, VA


John’s passing is indeed sad news. I considered him a kind friend and enjoyed his family’s wonderful hospitality at his home a number of times. I felt honored when he took a day to visit my farm. John was a keen observer of growing systems with a knack for getting directly to the root of an issue. I will miss the discussions we had; the insightful, probing questions he always had and the excitement he imparted sharing his latest production refinement he was implementing. I always left his farm or a phone conversation thinking I had gained far more than I had contributed in the exchange.  

Peace, my friend,
Donnie Fulks


Dr. E. Barclay Poling
Professor Emeritus (Strawberry Plasticulture Researcher)
& Interim Exec. Dir., NC Strawberry Assn., Inc.
Department of Horticultural Science
Campus Box 7609, 162A Kilgore Hall
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
“When everyone is thinking the  same…  someone isn’t   thinking ….”  —  George S  Patton
Updated on May 20, 2021
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