Opinion: Hard work and character describe this farming ancestor | Opinion
North Fulton, like much of Georgia, was agricultural country almost from the arrival of the first settlers in the 18th century until the early 20th century when urbanization and technology ushered in the machine age.
Although agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry today, North Fulton has become largely urban. Areas that were once extensive farms have been transformed into thriving communities, business enterprises and retail establishments. It is good to think of the people who paved the way for today’s generations, our farmers of yesteryear.
Auton Kirby (1915-2000), wife Ruth Estes Kirby (1919-2016) illustrated farm families of old. Auton, sometimes misspelled as Anton, was born in Dawson County and attended Cumming Public School, the first school in Forsyth County to award high school diplomas. Today it houses the Cumming Playhouse.
Auton’s father died when Auton was 9 years old, so he had the responsibility to help raise his two brothers and one sister. He learned self-reliance and the importance of a hard day’s work, traits he passed on to his four boys and two daughters. Her eldest son Sam says, “We’ve all worked on the farm since we were kids.
The boys worked in the fields and the girls worked with their mothers at home. No less than three sharecroppers also worked in the fields. Sharecroppers rented a plot of land, paying Auton a percentage of their crops.
In 1941 Auton borrowed money and bought 160 acres of prime farmland in Alpharetta and today’s Milton. His property was bounded roughly by today’s Ga. 400 and Windward Parkway and Union Hill Road.
For the first few years he grew cotton, but it was not profitable. It took one year for a farmer to withdraw his money from the cotton plantation and 60 days for the vegetables. He moved on to market gardening and chickens. Both were successful ventures.
Market gardening is another name for the production of vegetables. Auton grew a variety of vegetables, including corn, squash, and cucumbers. He sold his produce to A&P warehouses as well as Colonial Stores, a grocery chain common throughout the South until his demise in the 1970s. Sam also remembers taking truckloads of vegetables to the Atlanta Farmers Market.
Auton switched to broilers around 1946. He appeared in a 1953 Atlanta Constitution article in which he described his broiler business and his flock of 14,000 Draper 7-Way-Cross birds. During the 1960s he switched to laying hens and had, according to Sam, thousands and thousands of hens in 11 barns near where the Cracker Barrel restaurant is today.
“Each of us collected hundreds of eggs every day,” Sam said.
Auton sold his farm around 1985 when taxes became prohibitive. He bought a 78-acre property on Cogburn Road in the present town of Milton and raised Charolais cattle before retiring in the early 1990s.
At first, Auton and his boys plowed their fields by walking behind hand plows pulled by horses or mules. The boys preferred to use horses because they were easier to work with, but Auton had two or three of each animal depending on what was on the market at the time of need. The boys were very happy when the first tractor was acquired in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Ford tractors were preferred. Over the years Auton has had an 8N model, a Jubilee and a 3000 diesel model.
Auton and Ruth have devoted much time and effort to Union Hill Baptist Church in Alpharetta. Union Hill is a small country church where members help each other. Auton served as a deacon in the church for 52 years, and Ruth had the distinction of being the church’s oldest member when she died aged 97.
Auton was chairman of the North Fulton Farm Bureau for 20 years and served on the Farm Bureau’s state board of directors for 14 years.
He often helped his community by transporting produce grown by neighbors to market in his truck. It is said that without him, some of his neighbors would have gone hungry.
Sam summed up his parents: “Mom and Dad were hard workers. They raised a big family and did a lot for the neighborhood.