Russ Page didn’t grow up on a farm, but he began working on one when he was 11.
It was the love of animals and of farming that brought Page to the University of Georgia in 1981 and to Oconee County.
Page is one of the founders of the Oconee County’s successful farmland protection program, one of the originators of Oconee Farmers Market, and a tireless advocate for historic preservation and greenspace.
Page also is a cattle reproductive physiologist with a doctorate from Rutgers University and post doctorate fellowships at West Virginia University and the University of Pennsylvania.
And he was a successful businessman, having started a company called Reproductive Progress in 1989.
Page says he prefers to think of himself as a farmer, saying the other things he has done in his career are in service to farming.
Next month, Russ and his wife, Joan, are moving to Wilmington, N.C., to be closer to family and to the ocean.
Friends who want to wish them well can drop by from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 2 at the Cotton Gin on U.S. 15 south of Watkinsville.
String Of Projects
Page was one of three people who started the Oconee Farmers Market, now in its 15th season.
He also was one of a group of 10 who launched the county’s farmland protection program, which allows farmers to take money out of their farm by agreeing to keep it in farming.
Page was the citizen who advocated for designating money in the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program to fund the county’s farmland protection program, which in recent years has selected and protected a farm each year from development.
Page has been a tireless advocate of protecting the area around Elder Mill Bridge, of developing a riverwalk along the Apalachee to give citizens more access to the river, and of a historical museum on the Oconee River at Barnett Shoals.
Page rarely misses a Board of Commissioners meeting, where he advocates regularly for a program of development rights transfer to keep farmland, particularly in the south of the county, from being developed.
All For Farmers
Page, in interviews I did with him Friday and Saturday, said he did all of these things as a way of protecting farmers and farming.
“Everything I did was to support farmers,” Page said in our sessions at the library in Watkinsville.
“I had my own farm and my own cows,” he said. “So yes, I’m a farmer–maybe a scientific kind of farmer that helped other farmers.”
The Farmers Market, Page said, was set up to “help the local farmer have a place to sell his or her product.”
The farmland protection program resulted from the realization that “farmers in our area were under stress all the time. Their livelihood was put in jeopardy every single day.”
“We set out to see how we could protect the farms and protect the farmers,” Page said.
Page started his business in incubator space at the University of Georgia, but he later bought a 22-acre farm in the south of the county off SR 15 for the business and to raise his own cattle.
Page said his attachment to Oconee County grew out of a recognition that people in the county were willing to listen to citizens.
“Citizens do have some power,” Page said. “You have a voice.”
“You can go to the (Board of Commissioners) meetings,” he said. “There are lots of ways to influence what happens.”
Page said people have gotten in touch with him as a result of stories written about his farmland activism and asked for his assistance in other projects, such as the proposed museum at Barnett Shoals.
Page said he is willing to continue to advocate for projects in Oconee County, but he said he hopes others will step forward now that he is moving to North Carolina.
He already has gotten involved in government and civic life in Wrightsville Beach, near where he’ll be living in Wilmington.
Page said he is looking forward to having more time with his children and grandchildren.
Page is from Connecticut, and his wife is from Massachusetts.
Moving close to the coast is particularly important because of childhood memories Joan has of time at the ocean, Page said.
I did the video interview with Page over two days because of audio problems encountered on the first day.
The video below is an edited version of the video clips from the two days.
With the exception of the final clip in which Page comments on Joan, the order of the video is as originally recorded.
Page talks about being a farmer beginning at 1:00 in the video.
He talks about his childhood background in farming starting at 10:58.
Page explains the formation of his business starting at 18:30.
Comments on Oconee County are at 31:50.
A lengthy discussion of the museum and related project at Barnett Shoals is at 51:55.
Comments on lessons Page has learned are at 1:16:25.
Page talks about the move to North Carolina at 1:22:43 and about continued connections to Oconee County at 1:23:33.
Page talks about his relationship with his wife at 1:24:45.
OCO: Russ Page Interview 6 22 & 23 18 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.
I am so sorry to hear they are moving away. I've been at many meetings where I was so very glad Russ Page was there. He has done so much for this area.
Russ, God speed and well wishes on your new adventure. We appreciate all you have done for the County and all you have done for me. I always enjoyed working with you on different projects over the years. YOU WILL BE MISSED my friend.
The county will miss your activism, Russ. I don't always agree with you, but I always respect you. You are the best example of a concerned, active citizen, always polite but firm in your convictions. NC will be lucky to have you. I hope you enjoy your time there with your family.
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