Four decades and still growing strong: Rockwell Farms owner Abramowski receives Order of the Long Leaf Pine

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2020

ROCKWELL — To hear Jim Greene tell it, Tom Abramowski ran out of gas at the Salisbury exit 41 years ago and decided to set up his greenhouse business here.

But Abramowski was looking to move to North Carolina in 1979 from his home on Long Island, New York. And his guide in finding a spot was a North Carolina extension agent who drew a large circle over the Piedmont. Abramowski spent a week making day trips to different spots in the state during his search.

First, he explored Davidson, but the muddy body of water adjacent to the land was a turn off. That muddy water, it turns out, was Lake Norman. For only a moment, Abramowski laments that he “might have made a buck over there.”

But Abramowski hasn’t done too bad for himself on the outskirts of Rockwell, where he and wife Dottie in 1979 started a half-acre greenhouse operation growing annuals and mums. Now, the business known as Rockwell Farms has 36 acres of greenhouse with 20 acres of outdoor growing space on a total farm of 147 acres.

During a celebration last week to mark Rockwell Farms’ 41st year in business and the 25th anniversary of a business relationship with Statesville-based Carolina Farm Credit, Abramowski received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award — the highest award for state service granted by the governor. Nomination letters hailed his business success and generosity in supporting community causes.

“Moving to North Carolina and establishing a successful business that employs over 200 full-time people is a great success story. Using that success to help other grow and succeed is a greater story,” writes Vance C. Dalton Jr., president and CEO of Carolina Farm Credit.

For more than 36 years, he has provided free poinsettias for the Salisbury Civitan Club and free flowers to other clubs and organizations in the county. He’s worked with local schools’ Future Farmers of America Chapters. He’s also supported the Money Theater, Waterworks, Salisbury Academy, Good Shepherd Clinic, rowan County Dental Clinic and activities for physically and mentally disabled children.

Presenting the award in front of employees Thursday were representatives of Carolina Farm Credit, Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds and Vice Chairman Jim Greene.

Greene said that the longevity of Rockwell Farms meant that fore 41 years, employees have been able to buy Christmas presents, pay rent and other bills, pay tuition for their children to pursue a college degree and pay for weddings.

“And Rockwell Farms will be here for years and years to come,” Greene said.

Edds presented Abramowski with a North Carolina state flag that had flown over the Capitol and thanked the proprietor of Rockwell Farms for “taking a risk here, hiring here and giving here.”

Turning to his employees gathered for lunch, Abramowski said, “Rowan County has given us a tremendous amount. Rockwell Farms has given us a tremendous amount. And I want to say from the bottom of my heart, ‘Thank you all.’ None of this would have been possible without every one of you here.”

Started when Food Lion was still Food Town, Abramowski says his businesses has benefited from the expansion of the Salisbury-based grocery chain.

“Food Lion was one of my first customers and still is a customer to this day, 41 years later,” he said.

Today, the company grows plants that include fall mums, spring annuals and poinsettias. In addition to Food Lion, its products can be found in other supermarkets across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. It counts Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Publix, Tractor Supply Co. and Winn Dixie among its customers.

Abramowski said it gives him “a charge” to see his employees able to purchase a new car or house and improve their lives.

There have been tough times in the past, but Abramowski lives by the motto that things will eventually change and keeps a poem in his desk drawer to that effect. Its title is, simply, “Don’t Quit.”

Its first stanza goes:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit, 

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

One area that’s been increasingly difficult, Abramowski said, is hiring labor in the spring. Rockwell Farms hires about 100 seasonal workers each spring to work for a few months.

“Trying to find seasonal workers and stuff like that for agriculture, across agriculture, is very, very difficult, and increasingly difficult,” he said.

The year 2020, however, has not produced unusual struggles for greenhouse because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are sprucing up their living spaces and working from home more often. That means buying flowers, too.

“They are buying plants and they’re decorating the outdoors and doing things at home,” Abramowski said. “So, 2020, as far as we’re concerned, has been a very good year.”