Family Plows New Ground to Maintain Farm Life

Posted June 21, 2007

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— North Carolina has lost about 300,000 acres of farmland in the past five years, but one Cumberland County family is determined to maintain the farm lifestyle as the city encroaches.

The Gillis family has tilled land in west Fayetteville since George Washington was president. It's a hard life, but it's a family heritage, John Gillis II said.

"My brother and my family all have a very strong tie to the land," Gillis said. "My boys are the eighth generation of my family, and they have just come back to the farm now."

Andrew Gillis, 20, and William Gillis, 22, are helping their father sow the seeds of agritourism to help attract paying visitors to the 2,000-acre farm.

"Dad didn't say I had to come back. He encouraged me to do what I wanted to do, but I couldn't imagine doing anything else," said William Gillis, a North Carolina State University graduate.

Gillis Hill Farm will offer visitors animal demonstrations, wagon rides and tours of a tobacco barn, a chicken house and a smoke house. Tours require reservations. The farm also sells ice cream churned with the help of an old John Deere tractor engine.

The family has gotten marketing ideas from the Agritourism Networking Association, which has at least 250 members. They expect to have about 10,000 students visit the farm in the coming year.

The farm, which is within the Fayetteville city limits, has subdivisions squeezing it on one side and a Wal-Mart and other commercial development about a half-mile down the road on the other side.

John Gillis said he sees agritourism as a way to fend off the city and preserve the only lifestyle he's ever known.

"If money is what it's all about, yeah, there's a lot of pressure. There's more to life than money, and we enjoy this way of life -- the farm way of life," he said.


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  • Steve Crisp Jun 22, 2007

    I don't know, Andrew. More power to ya, I guess. But again, if it were me and I just had to stay in farming, I would dump for $75 to $100 million, take half of that and buy 300,000 acres in Texas, and farm to my heart's content while living off the interest on the interest of the money left over. And then I would drill for oil. And raise cows 'cause cows are cool.

    Of course, then you would have to become a Longhorn fan, so I guess you're better off staying where you are. :)

  • bigcanoe Jun 22, 2007

    We own a small farm (non operating) in South Carolina. Where can I learn more about agritourism?

  • wolfmandan Jun 22, 2007

    I lived on a small farm when I little. I still think back and remember the great times I had and the work. Wish I could still be a part of it now. Good luck and keep up the good work!

  • agillis87 Jun 22, 2007

    Well, for about 10 acres we were offered 3 million...but total we own about 3000 acres...

  • 1Moms_View Jun 22, 2007

    Kudos to you for keeping it going. Great way to education children who have never seen a farm and that way of life. I wish more understood and valued the family history and tradition as your family seems to do. My family, also farmers, have been in this area since the 1700s and were farmers.

  • cometogether rightnow Jun 22, 2007

    Right on!!! Don't ever sell that land, it's land not only for your family, but also for our wildlife. I agree, there is more to life than selling what's been in your family for probably a long time and has more than monetary value.

  • Steve Crisp Jun 22, 2007

    WOW! I'm passionate about a lot of things in my life, but there are a whole bunch of things I would give up for that kind of money. My faith in God, my love of country, and most likely my wife (hehe,just kidding dear) are some things I hold sacred. But land and a profession are history.

    This is like the guy that owns that farm on Hwy 355 in Bethesda MD just outside of Washington DC. It's probably worth $500 million to one billion dollars and he still gets out there with his plows and farms every year.

    Just out of curiosity, how much have you actually been offered for that property?

  • agillis87 Jun 22, 2007

    I guarantee you that I will never sell it unless taxes become too high on it to afford to live here....

  • Steve Crisp Jun 21, 2007

    Who wants to bet me that when someone offers them $75 million for that land that they will completely forget about anything with the name John Deere on it?