Member Profile: Duane Wilkey
Duane Wilkey, the vice president of Graham County Farm Bureau, grew up in Texas about halfway between Dallas and Houston, an area he calls, “the middle of nowhere.”
Raising cattle, being a part of 4-H and having the family buy all its farm supplies from the local Farm Bureau outlet are all Wilkey knew until he began to visit uncles in Western North Carolina. After graduating with an agriculture business degree from Sam Houston State, Wilkey chose to relocate from the Lone Star State to North Carolina and acquired from his uncles a rainbow trout operation that up to that point was a hobby operation.
That move came in 1991. Now more than 20 years later, with tons of fish grown and two children raised and sent through college, Wilkey and his wife, Linda, still raise trout in Graham County.
“It’s a full-time job,” Wilkey says. “It’s like a dairy farm where you have to be here every day. It’s a really nice way to make a living. I like doing it because it’s out in the country. It’s very peaceful.”
Wilkey describes his operation as a typical family farm because he and his wife handle nearly all of the labor. He hauls live trout to buyers who use the fish for recreational waterways or process them for restaurants.
Wilkey caters to the trout from the time they’re hatched on-site until they’re ready to be marketed about 18 months later. He says he has to stagger his inventory because the fish grow slower in the winter.
When he’s not tending to the trout, Wilkey often spends time with his family, which now includes grandchildren. Or, he helps Graham County Farm Bureau with its projects.
“It’s really rewarding for me because I grew up with Farm Bureau,” Wilkey says. “It’s been a nice tradition with me and my family. It was a natural transition for me when they asked me to be on the board here. I enjoy it, I really do.”