Seen through pictures, Wayne Collier‘s farm is an idyllic setting that feels like postcards from the past, from a time when families lived on farms and passed the land down through generations. For many decades now, Collier has watched farmland in his hometown of Linden change hands multiple times, transitioning from livestock grazing lands and croplands to highways, housing developments and strip malls.
Although the landscape around Collier has changed, Indian Ridge Farm has remained mostly the same for the last 150 years. Crops are planted in the fields, cattle graze in the pastures, and members of the Collier family still live in cabins built from timber grown on the property and milled in a sawmill that dates back to the 1900s that is still in use.
In 1880, there were more than 22 million acres of farmland in North Carolina; the number dwindled to just 8.4 million acres in 2018. The loss of farmland is one of the reasons Collier is so passionate about preserving his family farm.
“Being a Century Farms means there’s a legacy and a sense of history on that farm,” Collier said. “It means it’s home.”
Collier is the fourth generation to own Indian Ridge Farm. His great-grandfather Zachariah Collier purchased the original 200-acre plot in 1872, and the Collier family has owned the farmland ever since. In 2020, Indian Ridge Farm received a coveted Century Farm designation.
“I’ve been interested in farm preservation and the history of our farm in particular,” Collier said. “[Being a Century Farm] just lets people know the legacy of land in North Carolina and how many folks are really hanging on to the farms and trying to keep the farms in the family.”
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services awards the Century Farm designation to farms that have been in the same family for at least 100 years.
“It’s a recognition program,” Andrea Ashby, director of public affairs for the state Department of Agriculture said. “We want to honor and recognize the commitment to keeping farmland in families because it’s such a significant accomplishment.”
The Century Farm program was introduced at the 1970 N.C. State Fair when the theme was “Salute to Agriculture.”
“There was a bit of an effort nationally to have an accounting of the farms that were 100 years old,” said Ashby. “The department set out to find those farms and get farmers to fill out an application and get interested in this newly created Century Farm program.”
In the first year, more than 800 farms qualified for the designation. To date, the program has awarded the Century Farm designation to almost 2,000 farms of the 46,000 in North Carolina. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintains a database of all of the Century Farms in North Carolina.
Indian Ridge Farm is one of nine Century Farms in Cumberland County. Dare, Graham and Swain counties are the only North Carolina counties without any registered Century Farms.
In 2016, the state Department of Agriculture introduced the Bicentennial Farm program to honor North Carolina farms that had been in the same families for more than 200 years. The earliest registered farm is the Gilmore-Patterson Farm in St. Pauls in Robeson County, which dates back to 1735. A farm in Caswell County dates back to 1743.
Fast-growing urban areas and skyrocketing land prices coupled with shrinking numbers of farmers have made it increasingly difficult for families to keep farmland. Ashby believes that farms carrying on the tradition deserve recognition.
“Over time, farms are split up and divided amongst family members, and some have different ideas of what to do with the land,” she said. “We’ve lost farms and land to development. It’s incredibly hard, and getting harder, (to keep land in families).”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign to encourage consumers to support local agriculture and has led to a demand for fresh, locally grown foods. Recognition as a Century Farm allows farmers to benefit from that momentum by letting customers know that their purchases support longtime North Carolina farm families that are committed to producing locally grown foods and maintaining a strong agriculture industry in the state. Ashby notes that Century Farms and Bicentennial Farms proudly display their certificates to show off their farming legacies.
Tracing farming roots
The Collier land was owned by different family members since Zachariah Collier purchased it in 1872. As heirs inherited land, parcels were split among several members of the Collier family, and several purchased additional land, increasing the size of the farm from the original 200 acres to more than 450 acres.
There have also been transitions in how the land has been used. The original farm included an apple orchard along with cotton and corn crops; it transitioned to a tobacco farm after World War II, and the crop was the mainstay until the tobacco buyout in 2004. It has always been owned by members of the Collier family.
Collier knew the history of the farm because his father wrote a family memoir that included information about the land transition between generations and the agricultural legacy of the farm.
“In my dad’s memoirs, he wrote down a lot of things about how they farmed back in the 1920s and 1930s before he went off to World War II,” Collier said.
To qualify for the Century Farm designation, Collier needed more than a memoir: He needed county records to prove the land had been in his family for at least 100 years. Collier went to the Cumberland County Register of Deeds to trace the land records to confirm the property had been in his family since 1872. Tracking down the paperwork to qualify for the Century Farm designation was easier than he imagined.
“I went in there and told them what I was looking for, and (the staff) pointed me to the right book, and I followed it right along,” he said.
Earning the Century Farm designation honors the family history and helps instill a sense of pride for future generations.
“I think it’s important to let folks know that this legacy of the land and the family go together,” he said. “Those folks that are able to (keep a farm in the family) for more than 100 years should get a lot of accolades for doing that.”