Mitchell County Century Farm known for its molasses

By on October 21, 2020

In 1796, Hugh Harrell planted the roots of a family farm in
Bakersville that would grow with love over the centuries. Harrell Hill Farms
has produced a variety of products throughout time, but the family has always
valued education and each other.

Luther Harrell, a descendant of Hugh, was one of the first
farmers in the area to have obtained any college education. He and his wife
raised seven children, all of whom attended college to become teachers in the
1930s and 40s.

Image source: harrellhillfarms.com

At that time, the family raised cattle and sheep, while also
producing molasses and produce. Much of the produce grown by the family was
traded in return for tuition credit at the children’s colleges. One of the
children, A.D. Harrell, would take over the family’s farm, working there when
he wasn’t teaching or coaching at the local high school. During those times,
the family’s primary farm incomes came from burley tobacco and dairy, while the
sheep and cattle also remained present.

In the 1980s, the family changed their focus to producing
Christmas trees in addition to the burley tobacco and beef cattle. Doug
Harrell, the current farm operator, moved back to the family’s farm in 1990.
Doug and his wife, Barbara, had both worked in the business world for many
years, visiting the farm frequently when on vacation.

Doug no longer grows Christmas trees, but instead has
shifted his focus to beef cattle and producing molasses, like his grandfather
had done many years before. Some produce is grown as well, but mainly sweet
corn. Today, the Harrells are one of the largest sorghum syrup (molasses) producers
in North Carolina, supplying many Ingles Markets across western NC.

Image source: harrellhillfarms.com

When asked what his family’s farm means to him, Doug was practically
speechless.

“I can’t even put that in words. I can sit up on those ridges
and think back and wonder how in the world our forefathers did what they did. I
just feel so blessed to be able to be out there in God’s creation and to work
in the soil.”

At 77 years old, Doug continues to work long hours on the farm, beginning his day around four or five in the morning and finishing up around eight or nine each night. Doug and Barbara also enjoy teaching others about agriculture when they are not actively farming the land.

“We work very closely with the 4-H programs and the FFA
programs in the area. We like to have all the fourth graders in the county down
once a year to the farm. We enjoy working with the children and seeing them
learn about agriculture.”

Image source: harrellhillfarms.com

In the future, the land that Doug grew up on will continue
to be used for agricultural purposes under the leadership of his son. The
remaining family land will be for Doug’s children to do as they please.

Service is important to Doug and his family, and he hopes
his family can continue to serve the Bakersville community.

“I just value the ability to get out and have a positive impact on the community and to provide services and food and things that need to be done.”

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the NCDA&CS Century Farm Program. Less than 2,000 families across North Carolina can say that they have operated a family farm for 100 years.

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