“This project represents five years of hard work by the land trust, the landowner, and the agencies involved,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “This farm is representative of agriculture in Western North Carolina, and we are thrilled that the Reeves family will be able to continue owning, living and farming on this land in the future.”
Located in the Little Sandy Mush community amidst a scenic landscape of family farms, the property was part of a US land grant that once encompassed a much larger area. Landowner Betty Reeves is a 6th generation member of the Reeves family to farm the land, and she wanted to protect it with an agricultural conservation easement so that that it would be a resource for current and future farmers.
“People are always going to need healthy food to eat, and if we use all the land for development, we won’t have anywhere to farm,” said Betty. “When you think about it, we’re not getting any more land.”
Betty had worked the land alongside her husband, lifetime farmer Burder Reeves, who passed away a few years ago. Both Betty and Burder have been inducted into the NC Mountain State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame — Betty in September 2015 and Burder in 2010. Continuing the family tradition, one of their daughters, Robin, manages a diverse enterprise on the farm today, producing cattle, hay, and pasture-raised broilers and turkeys.
“Developers have offered substantial sums for this place, but Daddy never wanted it to be sold,” recalls Robin. “He wanted it to stay in the family, and wanted to see it continue to be used as farmland.”
The recently protected property consists of distinct parcels, each necessary for the farm operation: a lower-elevation farmstead in the valley and a high-elevation mountain field used as summer grazing pasture, rising to 4,544 ft. above sea level. The cattle graze on the mountain pastures from May to October, flourishing with cooler temperatures, less insect pressure, and nutrient-rich native blue grass.
Conservation of the Reeves Homeplace Farm also protects water quality in the region, including Fall Branch, a significant tributary to Little Sandy Mush Creek.
“We are grateful to the partners involved who helped make this happen,” said Hamilton. “Their programs provide necessary financial incentives for a landowner to permanently restrict their land from subdivision and development.”
The Reeves Homeplace Farm conservation project was made possible by funding from the USDA — Natural Resource Conservation Service Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program; the NC Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund; and a generous private donor. The project brought the first federal and state funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing an agricultural conservation easement to Madison County.
“SAHC is proud that we serve the community in this way,” added Hamilton. “ We competed for grants across the nation and the state to bring these resources to Madison County to protect this historic valley farm and scenic mountain grazing land.”
Part of a Farming Family
Robin and Betty Reeves are as incredible a pair of ladies as one will find in the hollers and hills of Sandy Mush. Robin considers herself lucky because as a teenager she was able to raise produce – like green beans – to sell to Ingles grocery stores for “spending money” instead of getting a job in fast food.
“Selling to Ingles as a teenager gave me confidence and the foundation to realize that I could succeed in a farm business,” she said. Her first forays into farming came even earlier. Starting around age 11 or 12, Robin showed cattle through 4-H at the Mountain State Fair, with the support of her parents. She quickly demonstrated a talent for it and regularly won awards until she aged out of the competition at 21.
“You have to do all the handling yourself,” she recalls, “Gentle them, groom and feed them, and get them calm enough to show in an arena, with the loudspeaker blaring and all the people and noise.”
Betty and Robin are still very much supporters of youth programs like the Future Farmers of America and 4-H. Betty emphasizes that it is important for our future to have both “people and the land to farm.”