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A century of farming tradition

By Rose Laudicina

Staff Writer

From UNC to Hillsborough’s place in the revolutionary and civil wars, there is a rich sense of history and tradition in Orange County. However, few people know about the culture and history that exists well past town limits into the rural community.

Many of the farms that provide us with milk, beef and other local produce have been functioning within the same families for 100 years or more, and thanks to a program of the N.C. Department of Agriculture they will be recognized for continuing the farming tradition.

Through the Century Farm Program, these centennial farms can be recognized and honored for their place in Orange County and North Carolina history.

“The strength and depth of North Carolina lies with you people who have kept the farm together,” Brian Long, director for public affairs for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, said to farmers at the Schley Grange meeting Tuesday night.

“A lot has changed, but agriculture is still a constant and is a crucial thing in North Carolina,” he added.

The Century Farm Program was started in 1970 at the N.C. State Fair, where 800 century farms in North Carolina were honored. The recognition brought families together, and ever since, a century farm reunion has been held about every four years, at which farm families come together, swap stories and discuss how they’ve managed to stay in business for so long.

Although the number of farms in the state has dramatically decreased as urban development expands – Long estimates that about 9,700 farms have been lost in the past 40 years – the number of century farms is actually growing.

Of the estimated 5,200 operational farms in North Carolina, Long says there are 1,600 to 1,700 century farms.

“It is a small club, but one that thankfully keeps growing,” he said.

To be recognized as a century farm, the farm family must prove their farm has been under continuous ownership by the same family for at least 100 years. Once verified, the farm receives a certificate, is listed on the program’s website and receives a metal sign to display at the farm.

While Long acknowledges the program is simply for recognition, he said he has noticed state entities like the N.C. Department of Transportation taking note of recognized century farms and avoiding disturbing them when possible.

While being a century farm seems impressive enough, Orange County farmer Gordon Neville asked Long if there is any special recognition for farms that have been within the same family for more than 200 years.

Neville’s farm has been in his family since 1793, and he wasn’t the only farmer at Tuesday’s meeting who would earn a special 200-year distinction. Three farmers in attendance had farms more than 200 years old.

“The greatest kept secret in Orange County is our century farms,” said Bonnie Hauser, grange member and local century farm organizer.

Hauser plans to collaborate with the Orange County Visitors Bureau to create an educational driving tour of the century farms in Orange County so both locals and out-of-town guests can learn about the history and culture that exists in the rural community.

“There are many beautiful farms here, and many of them are century farms,” Hauser said. “Most people in the towns don’t know that the county extends past Hillsborough.”

“We want to create a sense of pride in our rural community,” she added.

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