Harrell Hill Farms: A Brief History
by Doug Harrell
In 1796 Hugh Harrell was granted a land grant that was the beginning of this family farm. I don’t know what all the farm produced but in those days and the earliest real knowledge that I have goes back to my grandfather, Luther Harrell. Luther and my grandmother, Arizona Harrell, raised seven children here on the farm. Luther was one of the first farmers in this area to have any college education, attending Berea College in Kentucky for a couple of years. As I was growing up on a part of the land that my father and mother, AD and Geneva Harrell, had purchased in 1945 we were just down the road a few hundred yards from Papa Harrell. At this he had cattle, sheep, molasses and produce that he grew here on the farm. I spent many hours tagging after he and my dad.
Luther and Arizona were very special folks and they had a great belief that even if you were going to farm you needed to be educated. They sent all seven of their children, this was in the 1930’s and 40’s to college and all seven graduated from Appalachian State Teachers College, now Appalachian State University. They paid the tuition with farm income, much of the tuition was trading produce to the lunch room in exchange for tuition credit. Papa Harrell was recognized as the outstanding conservation farmer in the county several times.
As I was growing up on the farm my dad, A.D. Harrell, taught school and coached at the local high school, Tipton Hill School, and ran the farm. We started a grade A dairy in 1949 and ran this along with the teaching and coaching. The dairy and burley tobacco were the primary farm incomes and these incomes were used to purchase additional lands in the county over the years. Dad was very involved in the agricultural community and served as president of the Biltmore Dairy Producers Association, president of the Farm Bureau organization and was on the board of Soil and Water. Mother was actually the first female Farm Bureau Agency manager in North Carolina and retired from that after a very successful career. Dad continued to be active on the farm until his death at the age of 95 in 2012.
I continued the tradition of graduating from Appalachian and after graduating went to work in the agricultural fertilizer and chemical industry while continuing to keep my fingers in the farm activity. In 1990 my wife and I moved back to the farm and purchased five additional farm tracts that year and the next couple of years. I continued working in the corporate arena for several more years and have acquired additional businesses over the years, but the farm has always been my love, my escape for the hubbub of life and I have and still treasure the work and effort that goes into making the farm work and be a contributing part of the community. I am also very active in the agricultural arena today, advisory board to the county agents and 4-H extension group, Soil and Water board, VAD board and Farm Bureau board. Over the years my focus here on the farm has changed with the evolving of the times. In the 1980’s we began to set Christmas trees on the farm and continued with the burley tobacco and beef cattle. My dad and I did the beef cattle together until his death in 2012 and at that time I took over all the beef production. 1999 was the last year we grew burley tobacco and we looked for other avenues and sources of revenue that would remain true to the farm heritage. In looking around, we still had all the stainless steel equipment that we had used in the dairy that had stopped in the 1970’s. I remembered making molasses with my grandfather, had not done that since the mid 1950’s, but decided that this would be a good heritage product to produce so in 2011 we started back making molasses, technically sorghum syrup. We were able to repurpose the old equipment and put it back into use. I served several years on the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors board of directors. Today we are one of the largest producers of the product in North Carolina and supply the local community along with the Ingles Stores in Western North Carolina.
My vision for the future is for the sons, daughters and grandchildren to continue what has been a two hundred plus year love of the land and the work that goes with it. It does appear that several in the family will want to continue the legacy that the family has so loved over these many years. One of the primary focuses of the family is to keep the farm where it can be used as an outdoors recreation area for youth and others. Over the years we have hosted many church groups, boy scout groups and others on the farm, and there is common consent in the family that this should continue to be a very high priority for the future. We are currently in discussions with organizations that take troubled youth on camping, fishing and hunting experiences outdoors as a means of helping them get their lives in order, and feel that this is a very important need. We don’t want to see houses on these beautiful knolls and ridges that have been home to me and the Harrell Family now for over two hundred years. I know that there will be changes that they will want to make in the production on the farm, and I whole heartedly endorse those changes for the future.