Standing in her family fields on the property of her namesake Armstrong Farms near Bastrop, LA, Ashley Armstrong tells Garden & Health that a storm is rolling in. She says to “hold on one second” while she takes shelter from the whipping wind interrupting the conversation.
Safely and quietly, within the walls of her family home, she begins to tell her story, one that to this day is still some matter of debate as to its origins.
“I’m gonna have to go back and check with my daddy. He ain’t here right now, and for some reason, I’m always wrong on this,” she says, laughing, “but he always says he’s the third, and I’m the fourth generation.”
“But I’m the fifth generation,” she adds matter of factly as if proving her father, who isn’t present, wrong and settling the subject once and for all.
Armstrong Farms’ Facebook page proudly declares, “Farming Is Our Purpose.” After spending a few minutes speaking with Armstrong, one gets the sense that the line is right on the money. Wistfully, she says of the family business: “We’ve been, we’ve been doing this as long as I have been living. I got a picture with me in diapers in the cotton fields just playing.”
Armstrong Farms’ heritage is as old as the U.S. itself, and the family line stretches back centuries.
“We originated in Ghana, Africa, back in the 1800s. Then they moved to Tennessee around 1812,” Armstrong said. “I know my great, great, great grandfather James Armstrong ended up moving to Mississippi, and that’s where the family really, really started growing in Mississippi ‘round in the Canton area in the 1900s.”
“My granddad was a sharecropper, and the place that we’re on right now, he was actually farming this then,” she continued. “I think he had at the time … 20 acres. But over time, my dad, he expanded our home operation to about 103 acres — because he grew up where we farm now. So, you want to try to keep that in the family.”
Armstrong Farms now boasts more than 500 acres of Louisiana land where they raise fresh produce that is available for sale and on-site, and this expansion is in no small part due to Armstrong herself. After leaving home to attend college, she took a slightly circuitous path back to the family land.
“I grew up on the farm, and really that was all I knew. Everything was farming,” Armstrong said, chuckling. “So, when I graduated from high school, I said, ‘I’m not doing anything with farming!’. I want to see what else is out there.”
After taking a stab at a computer engineering degree at a university in Baton Rouge, she declared it “too much city” for her. She made her way back, where she later graduated with a degree in business administration for the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Then, better prepared to grow and run a business, Ashley Armstrong went back to the family farm, and as she tells the story of her homecoming, one gets the sense that she’s never really looked back.
Looking toward the future as the conversation winds down, the question is asked about the sixth generation: Where does Armstrong Farms go after her and her father?
“I don’t know. I’m pretty much the Last of The Mohicans!” she says, laughing. “But honestly, I want us to be more modern, more up-to-date. And we still have a ways to go. Just trying to take it one day at a time and just each day keep moving forward with something different.”
Whatever the future holds for Armstrong Farms, Ashley Armstrong is up to the challenge.