Mitchell County Century Farm known for its molasses

by | Oct 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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.