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Until the next Barn dance!

The History of

HICKORY NUT GAP

Fairview, North Carolina
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Continental Divide in Buncombe County

THE FAMILY & LAND

The modern history of Hickory Nut Gap Farm began in 1916, with the arrival of Jim and Elizabeth McClure.
Newly married and still on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the old Sherrill’s Inn and the surrounding farm. Elizabeth devoted herself to restoring the old inn and its landscaping. On April 30th, 1918 Jim held the first official meeting of the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Company. Wading into farm work, Jim learned firsthand about the many difficulties of mountain agriculture.

The land of Hickory Nut Gap Farm is jointly owned by the six children of James and Elspeth Clarke. Some of the six children, now grown with children and grandchildren of their own, remain here at the farm and in the area, while some have moved away to pursue a different course in life. This large farm family gathers often as the draw of the family home and its agricultural heritage is still strong. In 2008, the land was put into a conservation easement with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Protected for eternity, the land will remain managed by the family and in production of agricultural pursuits.

JAMES MCLURE’S DIARY ENTRIES, 1918

August 1 The cursed, cursed pigs are rooting up the whole lawn.

September 11 …threshed 46 1/2 bu. wheat, 15 rye, 18 oats & 1 barley.

September 13  Sent wheat to Alexander’s mill & they said it was the best wheat they had had brought in.

September 18 …molasses being made, Fin, John & Foy at the evaporator, John with Red & Brown [the mules] hauling cane—& W.B. Morgan, Croak & Zeb strip-ping & cutting cane.

September 19 Molasses started at crack of dawn. By noon…50 gal was made by 8 pm

October 8 Finished picking apples totaling 125 [barrels] …Started [grain] dryer this day & it did twice catch on fire & we are feeling sullen at the Demonstrating agents for getting us into it.

Meet the FAMilY

John and Annie (Clarke) Ager live in Fairview. Annie is the President of Project HNG, a non-profit, that operates the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Camp. Nearly every day, you can catch Annie on horseback with a line of riding students following behind her. John Ager is involved in farmland preservation efforts in the region, a partner in Drovers Road Preserve, and served as a representative in the North Carolina General Assembly. John and Annie have 4 sons: Jamie, Eric, Kevin, and Doug.

  • Amy and Jamie Ager co-own the Hickory Nut Gap Farm business and the brand Hickory Nut Gap Meats. Both are graduates of Warren Wilson College. They have three eager boys who enjoy moving cows and feeding baby chicks.
  • Eric and Rachel Ager just returned to Fairview after more than 25 years serving in the US Navy. Eric is a North Carolina State Representative for District 114.
  • Kevin Ager served in the Army and currently lives and works in Jackson County, NC.
  • Doug Ager lives in Asheville and co-owns the renewable energy company Sugar Hollow Solar with his cousin Phelps Clarke.

Dr. Will and Susie (Clarke) Hamilton are both retired are spending time enjoying their family and friends. Will and Susie had 5 children: Annie Louise, William, Elizabeth, David, and Elspie.

  • Isaiah and Annie Louise Perkinson own and operate Flying Cloud Farm, a 14-acres of organically grown vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Flying Cloud Farm offers their vegetables for sale at their roadside stand, local farmers market, and through a CSA. Annie Louise and Isaiah have two daughters.
  • William and Molly Hamilton and their four children live close by Hickory Nut Gap Farm where William grew up. William is the Farmland Preservation Director at the local land trust Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. He is also a real estate broker with Conservation Advisors of North Carolina, Inc. and serves as a Soil and Water Supervisor for the Buncombe County Soil and Water District. Molly grew up in eastern North Carolina where her grandfather farmed small grains, cattle, and pork and she serves as the Extension Assistant for NC State University Organic Grain Project. Molly is also a partner and operator of Farmer Jane Soaps.
  • With help from their three boys, Elizabeth and Fred Bahnson are cultivating a bio-intensive garden and permaculture orchard in Brevard. Elizabeth, former fiddle player for the Steep Canyon Rangers, is still a musician whose most recent album with Charles Pettee and FolkPsalm is entitled The Way of Manna. She currently teaches fiddle lessons. Fred is the author of two books, Making Peace with the Land, and Soil and Sacrement.
  • David is a massage & bodywork therapist, musician and educator living in the piedmont of North Carolina.
  • Elspie Hamilton is currently living and working in Yosemite National Park, teaching environmental education and exploring the high peaks as an avid rock climber.

Jim and Francine Clarke live in Cornelius, NC. They have a daughter, Sharon Cox (who is married to Jamey Cox), and three grandchildren, Hallie, Annalise, and Benjamin Cox. They and their family enjoy occasional visits to Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Hallie, Annalise, and Benjamin have greatly enjoyed participating  in the HNGF horse camp, both as campers and as counselors.

Billy and Cindy Clarke live in Fairview, NC. Billy is an environmental lawyer at Roberts & Stevens Law Firm and Cindy works at UNC Asheville with the Family Business Forum. Their growing family adds to the clan.

  • Phelps Clarke co-owns Sugar Hollow Solar with his cousin, Douglas Ager.
  • Winslow Clarke Dean and husband Matt own Asheville Stone in Fairview.
  • Durban Clarke Zaunbrecher and her husband Austin live in New Orleans.
  • Ambrose helps where he can.
  • Wills is busy as a student at Christ School.

Dumont Clarke and his wife, Shirley J. Linn, have their permanent residence in Charlotte NC, but also stay frequently in a house they own that overlooks the farm. They also lease to the farm a pasture they own for grazing cattle.  Dumont grew up milking cows, baling hay, picking apples, slopping hogs, working in the garden, and doing a variety of other chores on the farm when he wasn’t attending school, doing his homework, or goofing off with friends.

He is a 1974 graduate of Vassar College (the first class to which men were admitted as freshmen) and a 1978 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law.  He spent most of his professional career, after initially practicing law for several years with a firm on Park Avenue in New York City, with the firm of Moore & Van Allen PLLC in Charlotte NC concentrating his practice in securities regulation and corporate governance.  He also served contemporaneously for 18 years on the Board of County Commissioners of Mecklenburg County, stepping down in 2018.

His wife, Shirley, grew up on a 950-acre diversified farm in Cedar County in east central Iowa where her mother Betty (who celebrated her 100th birthday in March 2022) had a large cow/calf herd that she grazed on 135 acres of grassland and also raised lots of pigs.  Her father, her brother and various, loyal hired helpers produced corn and soybeans on approximately 700 acres of some of the most productive cropland in the US.  Shirley is a 1975 graduate of the University of Iowa Law School, after receiving her B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa, and was in private law practice in New York City and Charlotte NC for many years.  She spent the last 16 years of her professional career serving as Executive Vice President and General Counsel of a public company called FairPoint Communications, Inc.  They have two married, adult daughters, Elizabeth and Deborah.

  • Elizabeth is a 2007 graduate of Duke University who has served as a US Navy Intelligence Officer since graduating from college.  She and her husband Declan, who is also a US Navy Intelligence Officer, and their son Connor move frequently, but at present are living in Cambridge, England and working nearby.
  • Deborah, a 2009 graduate of Davidson College received her M.A. in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has taught history and social studies to high school students at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville CT, Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte NC, and Norfolk Collegiate, an independent school in Norfolk VA.   Her husband, Peter Reinsel, is an attorney with Dollar Tree, Inc., a Fortune 200 company, that is headquartered in nearby Chesapeake VA.  They have a son, born in late March 2020 just as the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down, named James Dumont Reinsel.

Doug and Betsy Clarke live in a house they built here on the farm. They have four children, Mark, Lily, Zoe, and Charlie. Doug manages the upkeep of the family home and grounds. Betsy is a hospice nurse at The Elizabeth House in Flat Rock NC.

TIMELINE

Pre-1800s
Field of Arrowheads

Cherokee and other Native Americans were stewards of our land prior to the 1800s. We have found many arrowheads in our fields, reminding us to acknowledge that our tenure of this place comes with a responsibility to continue our work in meaningful communion with the earth.

Pre-1800s
1834
Sherrill’s Inn IS built

Bedford Sherrill builds Sherrill’s Inn as an overnight accommodation for hog drovers and other travelers going from Asheville, NC to Rutherfordton, NC.

1834
1834-1860
Drover’s Road

Hog drovers finished hogs on the chestnut mast every fall and herded their pigs down to South Carolina and the piedmont of North Carolina for farmers who primarily grew cotton. The industry was very important to Western North Carolina from the 1830s until the Civil War.

1834-1860
1880
THE RAILROAD IS BUILT

Built by slave labor, a new railroad passes over the Swannanoa Gap, taking many lives and effectively ending the drover’s industry.

1880
1865-1916
Economic Slump

Western NC faces dire economic consequences after the Civil War and as the result of the end of slavery.

1865-1916
1916
A NEW BEGINNING

Jim and Elizabeth McClure arrive in Hickory Nut Gap in their “Honeymoon Hudson” automobile as they travel from Chicago to WNC for a visit. They fall in love with the old Sherrill’s Inn and the surrounding farm, and purchase it soon after. Elizabeth devoted herself to restoring the inn and it’s landscaping, which is still a prominent feature of the property.

1916
1918
Hickory Nut Gap Farm Company

On April 30th, 1918 Jim McClure held the first official meeting of the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Company.

1918
1920s-1930s
FARMER’s FEDERATION

In 1920, Jim McClure initiated the visionary Farmers Federation, a cooperative organization to bring better agriculture to Western North Carolina. The Farmers Federation blossoms into a large organization with branches throughout WNC.  Jim McClure successfully leads fundraising efforts with classmates and other contacts from Yale in New York City.

1920s-1930s
1940s-1950s
Elspeth & Jamie Clarke

The McClures’ oldest daughter Elspeth ends up working in Charleston during World War II and falls in love with Jamie Clarke. They get married in 1842 and move back to Hickory Nut Gap Farm to work with the Federation. They have eight children and raise them all at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, raising apples, beef and dairy cattle.

1940s-1950s
1960s
End of the Farmers Federation

The Farmers Federation ends due to economic hardship. This is a very important turning point for agriculture in western North Carolina.

1960s
1980s
JAMIE CLARKE REPRESENTS DISTRICT 11

Jamie Clarke is elected to represent District 11 in the US House of Representatives, and serves three terms during the 1980s.

1980s
1990s
Annie & John Ager

Annie Ager, one of Jamie and Elspeth’s eight children manages the apples, horses, sheep, pigs and laying hens on the farm on a day-to-day basis while raising four sons with John. The brothers, with lots of help from the community, help their mom feed animals, make hay, birth lambs and calves throughout the year.

1990s
2000s
JAMIE & AMY AGER

Jamie Ager, a son of Annie and John Ager, meets Amy Frey at Warren Wilson College. They graduate, and begin participating in the farm with a vision to grow pasture raised meats and market them to local folks and restaurants in the community and beyond.
They marry in 2001 and have three children.

2000s
2005
GRASSFED Goes to GRocery

Jamie takes NC State Ag Leadership Class and meets Sam Dobson, a dairy farmer from Iredell County. Sam and Jamie partner on scaling the grass finished beef model. EarthFare at Westgate Shopping Center stocks Hickory Nut Gap ground beef, and Greenlife (now Whole Foods) purchases one cow a week, inspiring the first regular sales from grocery partners.

2005
2008
CONSERVATION EASEMENT

The descendants of Jamie and Elspeth Clarke which include the Clarke, Ager, and Hamilton families enter the farm into the Buncombe County Farmland Preservation Program. This decision is critical to the future of the Hickory Nut Gap business under Jamie and Amy’s ownership because it means the farmland will remain in agricultural production for perpetuity.

2008
2017
SCaling Sustainably

Hickory Nut Gap develops a strategy to scale the pasture raised and 100% grassfed meat supply chain by expanding local and regional farm partnerships. The team, operational systems and structure are formed to execute this vision while solidifying the activities and community engagement to support this vision at Hickory Nut Gap.

2017
2021
A SAVORY HUB

Hickory Nut Gap becomes an accredited Savory Hub. A Savory Hub, as facilitated by the Savory Institute, is a local or regional center that serves as a hub for regenerative agriculture and holistic management practices. These hubs are established in different locations around the world and act as focal points for education, training, networking, and support for farmers, ranchers, land managers, and communities interested in implementing regenerative practices.

2021
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