Story By Lauren Formalarie
Photography By Wendy Hunt
Twenty-five-year-old Trey Milligan radiates the Southern charm that comes naturally from growing up on a farm. Born and raised in Ash, just outside of Shallotte, Milligan is a fifth-generation farmer who grew up tending to his father’s tobacco farm.
Milligan began helping with his family’s farm when he was old enough to walk. He and his two older sisters worked in the fields whenever they were not in school. Tobacco was always the primary crop on the farm, but about eleven years ago they also started growing sod.
Working the farm has never been a chore for Milligan. While his sisters — Everett, who is five years older, and Blair, eight years older — stopped working on the farm during their high school years, Milligan has always found joy and tranquility in the labor. Not to mention, “driving a tractor is really fun,” he says with a big smile.
Tobacco is a hands-on crop, according to Milligan, and there is a lot of labor involved. As tough as the work may be, he enjoys all aspects.
“It is such a beautiful plant,” Milligan says. His job has always been hands on; curing, topping and suckering, cropping, spraying, selling and hauling his harvest. It’s certainly not a clean job, but to Milligan it’s fun. “I don’t mind getting dirty,” Milligan says, “and I get dirty a lot.”
An innovator and entrepreneur, Milligan always knew he would remain loyal to his father’s farm, although that never stopped him from having his own dreams and aspirations. “I’m a very nostalgic person,” he says. “I would never want to see the farm that I grew up on — as well as my Dad and grandfather — go. Plus, I love it.”
Milligan earned his degree from North Carolina State University (NCSU), where he went through a number of changes in career goals. After considering an agriculture degree and determining he wanted to expand his knowledge on a different subject, he considered pre-med before finally settling on his all-time favorite subject, history.
After taking a year off from college for a much-needed break from the books and to work in the restaurant industry, Milligan continued his education. It was around his junior year that Milligan, his father and his sister, Everett, started communicating about some new ideas. Since they had been partnering in the sod business for some time, they decided to take it to the next level. In January of 2009 the three of them planned the start of a business with hopes to be up and running by the first of March. Everett came up with the name — Real Green Turf — and the logo.
During his downtime between January and March, when they were preparing for the start of the business, Milligan used the Internet to research and educate himself on the different qualities of each type of sod and the commercial sod business as a whole.
“The business did a lot better than we thought it would,” Milligan says, considering the state of the economy at the time. After graduating from NCSU in May of 2009, Milligan knew what he would be doing after college. He was involved heavily in the new business by then.
When it comes to the future, Milligan is less concerned with the direction his life is going and more with the big picture. “I’m a very logical person,” he says, “I just want to make money.”
Now that Milligan is running the business, alongside his father, under the title of Production Manager, he does a little bit of everything, including the paperwork. He is even willing to stock and deliver the sod himself. Real Green Turf sells turf by the pallet or roll to landscaping companies. They’re able to roll it now with machinery they recently purchased, which has helped to grow the business.
Milligan started off driving around to different businesses looking to meet potential clients in order to get the business off the ground.
“Marketing was difficult in the beginning because the economy was down, and people were already getting certain products for prices that had already been dropped,” he says. With the downfall of the economy, it was a tough time to start a business, and getting payment from clients wasn’t easy. “The delinquency rate in the beginning was about one in five,” he says, but it has improved dramatically in recent times.
Being so busy with the turf business leaves little time for farming, and Milligan admits he misses it a little. There are certain times throughout the year when he can go back to working more on the farm and less with the technical aspects of the business. When he’s not out in the fields or doing paperwork, Milligan enjoys playing sports, going out on his parents’ boat and hunting. He hunts his family’s fields where deer often eat the soybeans, despite the scented tape set up around the field to deter them.
Milligan has a steady grasp on his business and his future, being successful and prepared for life at the age of 25. He loves what he is doing and always has, which makes it easy to go to work every day. In terms of his future goals, Milligan knows what he wants and it will always include his family’s farm. He says he would consider eventually eliminating tobacco from the farm, due to the inclining number of restrictions and costs involved and the decline in price received every year. He would like to continue to grow the business into a successful and thriving one, and maybe one day be in charge of it all.
“My dad is such a great manager and I learn a lot from him,” he says, “But I would love to eventually take over.”