by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Last week I had the honor of recognizing George Cecil, one of the two grandsons of George Vanderbilt, with the Ambassador of Agriculture award. This award represents the highest honor given by the N.C. Department of Agriculture for outstanding work in agriculture. Mr. Cecil is the owner of Biltmore Farms, which can trace its agricultural roots back to 1897.
Biltmore Farms agricultural history is as equally impressive as the extraordinary Biltmore Estate, in my opinion.
Agriculture was always part of George Vanderbilt’s original vision for the Biltmore Estate, and I think he would be very proud of the farm’s ability to sustain the property for many, many years through its successful dairy operation, to transition to new agricultural ventures and continuing to evolve to remain sustainable today through community development.
Throughout these transitions, Mr. Cecil has been at the helm, ensuring that every endeavor remained true to his grandfather’s vision of sustainability, community involvement and environmental stewardship
Dairy production, wine production, farm-to-table meat and produce, forestry and agricultural education – the Biltmore estate has been involved in them all.
Since 1979 as owner of Biltmore Farms, which is a separate venture from the estate, Mr. Cecil has continued the family’s long-term commitment to agriculture and Western North Carolina.
Biltmore Farms helped drive the development of the Western N.C. Farmers Market and the Western N.C. Ag Center through the creation of the Western North Carolina Development Association.
Both of these facilities are economic drivers in the region, and create regional opportunities for farmers, agribusinesses and other entrepreneurs.
When the property was divided between the grandsons, Mr. Cecil took over operation of the Biltmore Dairy Farm, which was renowned for its herd of registered Jersey cows, its wide distribution of milk and its tasty dairy products, including its ice cream.
A few years ago we hosted the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture here in Asheville. The Biltmore Estate served as our home base for our meetings and tours.
I wanted to mention one other interesting family connection to agriculture and our department. On our NASDA tour, I especially loved seeing the State Fair Superintendent pin on display in Antler Village that was from Edith Vanderbilt’s time as president of the N.C. State Agricultural Society.
From 1853 through 1925, the Agricultural Society was responsible for putting on the State Fair, with the primary purpose of showcasing agricultural advances and new technology for farmers.
In 1920, Edith Vanderbilt was the first woman elected president of the N.C. State Agricultural Society, after the family’s long involvement as a supporter and exhibitor at the State Fair.
What a special connection.
Also, in 2013, the Biltmore Estate joined about 2,000 other farms across this state in becoming a Century Family Farm, something I was proud to see happen.
It takes a tremendous determination and commitment for a family to hold onto farmland for 100 years or more these days. I know it is not easy, particularly near our more urban areas.
I appreciate the Vanderbilt family’s long-range vision of it serving as a sustaining foundation for the estate property.
I am proud that agriculture and agribusiness remains our state’s leading industry at $92.7 billion, providing a strong economic foundation for North Carolina and creating important jobs for our rural communities. That doesn’t happen by accident.
There are a lot of partners who help make this our top industry, from farmers, agribusiness owners, commodity leaders and ag organizations to researchers, university staff and policymakers.
I believe they share a common drive to be the best, to make North Carolina agriculture the best and to guide this industry toward future success.
Mr. Cecil and his family’s lifetime commitment to agriculture is a testament to this idea. I would encourage anyone that visits the great Biltmore Estate in Asheville to not only enjoy the magnificent house, but to also spend some time visiting the agricultural operations that make the Biltmore property one of our state’s most visited and most unique farms.