Farmland, North Carolina’s great vanishing act

Published 1:08 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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My Dad was a farmer. He used to always say, “Buy land, boy. They’re not making any more of it.” At the end of his farming days, he had followed his own advice and accumulated 1,850 acres of prime farmland.

Today, folks lament the loss of farmland in our area. They say all of our farms are being gobbled up for development. Homes, apartments, condominiums, and of course, Dollar Generals. One day, they joke, each person will have their own Dollar General. That’s a bit of a stretch, although it does appear we’re heading in that direction.

Ever-widening state highways chop off slivers of farmland like the meat slicing machine in the Ingles deli carving slices of ham. Businesses readily expand their footprint, and every day it seems another new restaurant opening is announced, making me wonder what’s wrong with the ones we have.

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Some people are building their second home. Others are building their third, and of course there are those who are building homes just so they can rent them out for a long weekend to 15 sorority sisters intent on staying libated in the name of higher education and mommy and daddy’s money.

I dare say there isn’t a single person doing any construction who gives a rip about farmland other than finding some to build on.

North Carolina has a great deal of farmland, but it is disappearing at a rapid pace. Conserving Carolina, a land trust alliance helping save land, has reported that North Carolina now ranks second in the most lost farmland in America. If this continues, in the next 15 years we will lose another 1,197,300 acres. Maybe even more, since the Carolinas are now growing faster than any of the Southeastern states, except  Florida. More and more, even Floridians are fleeing to the Carolinas to escape the heat and culture wars. (You can tell them what they’re getting into here.)

When I read on some social media platforms comments from local folks who are up in arms over the development of farmland, I’m tempted to tell them of my Daddy’s credo about land. Their own family and friends are the ones selling their farmland. If they had refused to sell, it would still be farmland.

A few years back when you could see the warning signs, a local friend said his mother had just sold her house and farm. Why? Because a man knocked on her door one day and said he would give her one million dollars.

I remember several years ago astute local farmer and businessman Frank Lilly of Overmountain Vineyards said he was going to pave the road leading up to his tasting room because the day was coming when Maseratis and Corvettes would be driving up there. The only thing he left out were Porsche, Land Rover, Lamborghini, Bentley, Ferrari and a few others.

They are coming faster than ever now, drawn to our comparatively cheap land, low taxes and precious few local restrictions governing building and development.

If you’re one of those folks upset about all this, you have an option.

Talk to your kinfolks about conserving their farmland by putting it in a trust that prevents development. Talk to the folks at Conserving Carolina ( They can put you on a path that your children and grandchildren can actually walk down some day.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at