Living your best ag life at Darnell Farms

by | Sep 7, 2023

#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture! 

Authentic Appalachian agriculture and pure unbridled fun can be found at Darnell Farms in Bryson City. As a farm that has always been open and inclusive to the community, it is one of the most widely known agritourism destinations in the N.C. Mountains. Nate Darnell is also wildly popular on social media for his hilarious yet informative videos on farming, agritourism and N.C. Agriculture. Although they may seem to have it altogether, Darnell Farms was born from a country boy’s dream and determination. Through the passion of owner Jeff Darnell and his children, Nate and Afton, the farm has become the community staple that it is today.

In the late 1970’s, Jeff Darnell started farming with the intent of preserving land in Swain County. “My dad grew up in Franklin county where he truly fell in love with agriculture in the late 70’s/early 80’s,” Afton Darnell said. “It all started with an open field and a country boy who wanted to grow. Every section of open farmland that he saw in the Franklin and Swain county areas were being bought out at the time, and that moved him to purchase our 100-acre plot of land and begin the adventure of Darnell Farms.” Today, the farm grows a variety of produce, including tomatoes, corn, squash, beans, cucumbers and strawberries.

Before agritourism become popular, the Darnell family began inviting the community out to the farm simply because they wanted it to be a shared space that people from all walks of life could enjoy. “We have always been a very inclusive place,” Afton said. “To this day, people can still come out to the farm simply to hang out and enjoy it with their friends and family. They don’t even have to buy anything!” In the late 90’s, Jeff Darnell started offering field trips and school group tours on the farm to educate kids about farming as a viable career path. These tours are still offered today and are one of Afton’s favorite events to participate in. “Seeing the kid’s faces light up as they are able to get their hands dirty and truly be a part of the process brings me so much joy,” she said. Since then, the farm has expanded to offer a variety of agritourism events throughout the year, including the Strawberry Jam Fest, u-pick operations, music nights, a Plow Days Festival, fall festivals and a Fall Frenzy Festival.

The Fall Frenzy Festival, taking place September 23, is a time to celebrate all things local! Although it is highly focused on showcasing local produce, crafts, musicians and more, individuals can also experience all the fall joys on the farm while there. “We have pumpkin patches and hayrides at all of our fall festivals,” Afton said. “People become fascinated with fall on the farm because we make it fun. The hayride is about a mile long and we talk about the history of the farm, the land and the N.C. Mountains.” The Fall Frenzy Festival has been taking place at Darnell Farms for over 20 years and is a widely anticipated event in the community. Not only can individuals enjoy the Fall Frenzy in September but also fall festivals every weekend in October. Each festival is an all day event and comes at no cost for visitors. “We really just want people to come and feel like a part of the family,” Afton said. “We are very passionate and aim to share that with the community through all that we do here at the farm.” All of their events also include a food truck and ice cream made right on the farm. the ice cream floats are very popular because of their unique and seasonal flavors, including Butterbeer and Caramel Apple Cider.

Not only can the community come out to enjoy fall festival weekends at Darnell Farms in October, but also the Plow Days Festival, taking place on October 21st and 22nd. “This is one of our most popular events because it is unique, fun and eye opening for a lot of people,” Afton said. “We bring in many authentic 18th and 19th century plows and their horse or mule teams to show visitors how farming used to be done.” Both kids and adults alike can take their turn learning how to lead the team and plow a field. The event also features a petting zoo where visitors can learn about a variety of farm animals, feed and pet them, and even experience live births on occasion!

Products from Darnell Farms can be found on-site at their produce stand and in various Ingles markets across the state. “We sell a lot of our tomatoes to Ingles as well as a few of our other products,” Afton said, “but our largest variety can be found in the produce stand at the farm, as well as many other products from surrounding farms, including Hickory Nut Gap meats.” The produce stand is open during all events at Darnell Farms.

“That song that says ‘started from the bottom, now we’re here,’ should truly be our farm theme song,” Afton said. “The way my father grew this farm from nothing into the destination that it is today, is our biggest source of pride.” By visiting Darnell Farms, you will not only feel their sense of pride in and passion for the farm, but you will also learn how farmers respect the land, invest in farmland preservation, rely on soil and water conservation and so much more. So start planning to visit this fall and take part in all the fun to be found on the farm!