Lifestyle Outdoors Sustainability

North River Farms Celebrates 25 Years

Davis Boys on Whitaker Brothers tractor, 2016

By Allison Taylor

Western North Carolina has always been a fertile location for farming—from backyard and family farms to commercial agricultural operations. Unfortunately, it seems as if many people are still unaware of where food comes from and the importance of supporting local agriculture.

Thankfully, local farmers markets, CSAs and farm stands are continuing to gain in popularity for those that see the benefits of locally sourced products: higher quality, better nutrition and lower environmental footprint.

Farming is not for the faint of heart, and continually presents challenges. Hours are long, costs continue to increase and the inevitable crop losses hit hard. Historically, weather events have posed the most critical challenges. In 2004, local farmers endured back-to-back hurricane rains in the heart of harvest season. There was the drought of 2007 and several late spring freezes, reminders that agriculture will always be at the mercy of the weather. Currently, there are additional struggles with high interest rates, labor shortages and the rapid-paced selling off of farmland for commercial and residential development. Once those lands are developed, their farming potential will be lost for good.

Carrying on the molasses tradition

North River Farms owner Jason Davis grew up playing on his grandparents’ farms in the Leicester community. His grandfathers were burley tobacco farmers who also raised other crops such as molasses cane, vegetables and beef cattle. He remembers sitting on the Massey Ferguson 135 and International B414 for hours as a small kid, pretending to plow and farm. As a teenager, Davis was privileged to work for the Whitaker and Moore Brothers farms in the Mills River Valley. “I always knew that I was drawn to the farming life,” says Davis. “Little did I know that several of the original tractors I grew up with as a kid, I would actually own and work our farm with today.”

Davis credits his farm’s successes in its 25 years to operating on a small footprint and diversifying to minimize and spread risk. The farm also focuses on direct marketing to consumers. It has an open door to the public, and has ventured into agritourism, including outfitting and equestrian endeavors.

Davis enjoys sharing how he got started with North River Farms in 1999. “My Pappaw Davis had passed away with Alzheimer’s disease when I was in the sixth grade, and my Pappaw Fox had retired from farming, but was still able to help out and mentor me as we started,” he says, adding that the Whitaker Family owner-financed his first equipment and leased him land beginning in 1997. Davis credits many others with their contributions to his business. “I had a lot of family, older farmers, retired farmers and family friends who were a true encouragement to our agricultural start,” he says. “The Moore family, Dermid family, Roper family and many others in the community shared their farm success stories as well as the challenges in the hopes that we could make it.” In addition, the Henderson County Extension and AgSouth were resources from the beginning.

Davis has three sons that are actively involved on the farm, when they’re not busy at school or playing sports. The oldest is about to graduate high school. Although they are all young, they are important assets to the operations—and just as excited about farming as their dad. “I’m excited about the future of North River Farms as our three boys take on more responsibility and chase their dreams and goals,” Davis says.

North River Farms will continue to diversify and work for sustainability. The goal is to advocate for and educate the public about agriculture, especially on how and where food comes from, how agritourism plays an important role in natural resource management and how farming is a foundation block for a community. Davis looks forward to the next 25 years and to passing the farm on to the next generation.

North River Farms is located at 3333 North Mills River Road in Mills River. To learn more, visit

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