The Upchurch Farm: Stories from 3 Generations
Cary, NC — Right off of High House and Davis, just minutes away from shopping centers and housing developments, is a lot of land with a big story. There, I got to meet the Upchurch family–the folks behind the incredible history of the farm on Carpenter Upchurch Road in Cary.
Billy, William, and Will
I had the best conversation with William “Billy” Upchurch, Sr. and his family over Pepsi and country ham biscuits last week.
Mr. Billy Upchurch has lived in the same house since he was seven years old. That’s where he started a farming operation from nothing. Billy’s father died at a young age, so he was forced into adulthood early on. William, his son, told me that:
Dad completed high school and then went to college, but the needs of the farm kept on growing bigger and bigger. So he came home and ran the farming operations so his sister could finish up school at UNC to become a pharmacist.
From tobacco to small grains, the farm’s crops have changed throughout the years–but Billy ran and continues to run a successful farming operation. For years now, he has had the help of his son, William Upchurch, who grew up in that house too. William still lives on the farm with his wife and his son, Will. They live in a house just a short tractor ride away from Billy.
The Tobacco Days
Nowadays, William and Billy raise small grains, fescue, and pumpkins on the farm. But that wasn’t always the case. William reflected that, “The bread and butter of this farm, many years ago, was tobacco. That’s what paid our bills and sent me to college.” Billy added:
Back when I was coming along young, this whole community was tobacco. You either raised tobacco or you worked in Durham at the tobacco factory. The tobacco factories were King, American…every one of these farms were tobacco farms. And those who didn’t stay here and raise tobacco worked at the tobacco factory.
By the late 90’s, making a living off tobacco no longer worked, as growers had to be part of a larger farming operation to produce the amounts of tobacco that companies wanted to buy.
A Self-Sufficient Farm
Billy, and even William, can both remember a time when the farm was completely self-sufficient. Billy reflected that:
You pretty well had everything you needed right here on the farm. You didn’t run to the grocery store for anything. You canned up everything or froze everything for the winter and used your animals for your own food. The country stores had the staples, I assume, like molasses and some flour.
The Old Roads
For awhile now, I’d been hoping to get a better idea of what Cary looked when the only road around ran through downtown. Billy gave me some idea:
When I started farming, we used to haul grain to Raleigh all through where Preston is now. We’d be axle deep with the truck, mud and all; the only paved road was where Chatham [Street] is now. We were glad to hit that pavement. Down through where Preston is now was just a big mud hole. All that flat through there where the golf course is now was just wet road back then. And there weren’t any buildings.
The Upchurch Farm is beautiful and vast. William and Will took me on a scenic “Gator” ride from their house to Billy’s and, on the way, I got to see vintage barns, expansive fields of rye and fescue, and a beautiful pond surrounded by trees. William’s two sisters both live on the farm, too. Their houses are right between William’s and Billy’s.
Much of the work completed at Upchurch Farm is done to help other local farms. In fact, in addition to being a farmer, William works full time as the head of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, which is a division of the Department of Agriculture.
He told me that, between taking care of his farm and helping local farmers full-time, he gets to “stay in act seven days a week.”
Supporting and utilizing the crops of local farmers is very important to the Upchurch family. William told me that a neighbor uses one of their fields to grow fescue to feed his cow, and they swap equipment with other farms all the time. William also grows rye and sells it to landscapers.
The Upchurch family owns several other farms, which they rent out to farmers in other counties.
The Animals of the Upchurch Farm
Tiny, DJ, Oreo, Davey, Ginger, Katie, Romeo, Rowdy are the names of the eight goats that live on the farm right outside of William’s house. Most of the goats were babies when they first arrived and were raised by the family.
All the attention they’ve received over the years, especially from Will, has made them gentle and kind. Will made me laugh when he shared that he “finds it kind of funny that even the female goats have beards.”
There’s also a precious miniature donkey named Hollywood that keeps the goats out of mischief and protects them from predators.
Support the Farm
You can support the Upchurch family, and visit the animals, by paying them a visit in October and December. Pumpkins, grown right on the farm, are available for purchase each year, as well as Christmas trees grown by North Carolina farmers. William’s wife even makes and sells homemade wreaths.
Right now, the Upchurch family is busy making plans for the year. Look for another article in several months to hear their farming update.
Story and photos by Jessica Patrick.
Community coverage on CaryCitizen is sponsored in part by Thai Spices & Sushi, located in Preston Corners.