Preserving the Family Farm

Ask Walter Harrill about his farm, Imladris, and there are two things he’ll want you to know right off the bat: No. 1, it’s a family farm (his son, Andy, is the seventh generation on the property). No. 2, it’s a sustainable farm. Both have everything in the world to do with each other.

“When I first moved here, my interest in sustainability and organics wasn’t based on environmental impact or health, it was based on historical methods,” Harrill says. “I wanted to figure out how my grandparents and great-grandparents did it.”
When Walter and his wife, Wendy, came back to farm the family land in Fairview 11 years ago, that meant discovering the “traditional Appalachian subsistence farm” model. In other words, getting a great deal from the land, but not necessarily earning a living. Walter’s great-grandfather, for example, worked as a bootlegger, carpenter’s assistant, roofer — you name it — just to be sure the doctor’s bills were covered.

Soon after moving, Walter volunteered to help his aging grandfather with weeding and mowing on his blueberry farm. After discovering that the farm’s blueberries sold for only 20 cents more than they did in 1954, he offered to take the reins if he could find new markets for the berries at a current price. At his first tailgate market, he sold out in just 30 minutes.

It sounds relatively easy, but he says their transition to commercial farming was anything but. “At this scale,” Walter says, “it’s important to be ahead of the curve.” And that sometimes means taking big risks. “You’re going to fail and fail several times,” he says, citing a foray into pickled eggs with a hearty laugh. “So, you don’t ever start a project that’s so big you can’t fail.”

In fact, when Wendy came up with the idea for their now well-known line of jams, he had serious doubts. He recalls beginning cautiously with just two rows of raspberries, scrambling before each spring to find enough berries to meet demand. That meant that he often had to purchase berries from other growers — sometimes on the national market.

Today, almost all of the berries in Imladris’ jams come from the farm. Walter still sometimes purchases from other local growers. That allows the farm to accomplish three things: to support other area farmers, to offer an Appalachian Grown certified product, and to have extra berries.

This is the first year Imladris’ jams bear the Appalachian Grown (AG) logo, as the family has made the commitment to purchase only from certified AG farms. Appalachian Grown is a program of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project that certifies products grown or raised in Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian mountains. The AG logo designates food that supports family farms like Imladris, strengthens the local economy and protects the region’s natural beauty.

Imladris’ products aren’t limited to jams alone. Sometimes, leftover berries from the harvest find their way into one the family’s new farm products: ice cream. Imladris recently teamed up with Ultimate Ice Cream to offer several berry varieties. But, they didn’t stop there. The farm’s product line now includes rabbit and goat meat too when Walter discovered a demand from local chefs and tailgate market shoppers. Plans to expand their rabbit venture are already underway.

Imladris also offers farm-fresh eggs, though Walter admits he has nothing to do with that particular venture. At 6, his son Andy said he was ready to figure the whole farming thing out, too. So Walter and Wendy decided to let him gather and sell eggs from the farms’ few chickens — starting small to minimize risk as they had with their other ventures.

Two years later, Walter sees fit to exclaim, “I’m in the wrong business!” Young Andy is up to around 40 hens in his flock, routinely selling out of eggs at market.

Find Imladris jams, apple butter, eggs, and rabbit and goat meat at the North Asheville Tailgate Market/Ninth Annual Holiday Bazaar, as well as for sale in Greenlife, Earth Fare and select Ingles stores. You can also order their products online or visit the farm for purchases this holiday season and throughout the year. For more information and directions to Imladris, visit imladrisfarm.com or call 628-9377.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at ASAP (asapconnections.org). Contact her at�maggie@asapconnections.org

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