‘Effort like they’ve never had to give’: Farmers get older and fewer, but hope remains for ag’s future
by Holly Kays, Smoky Mountain News (NC)
06 February 2019
Zac Guy grew up on the back of a tractor.
His father worked in sales and his mother was a postal carrier, but Guy’s grandfather Louie Reece was a commercial beef farmer, raising cattle as well as the hay and corn silage they needed to thrive on his farm in Bethel.
“Some of the fondest memories I have of growing up was time spent around livestock and with my grandfather on a tractor,” said Guy, who is now 41 and lives in Waynesville with his wife and three sons. “To this day I can get on a tractor, and it’s almost like a time warp.”
Guy enters that time warp quite often while tending his 1,800-acre cattle farm, and he does so atop the same tractor his grandfather used all those years ago. Reece used to pencil himself notes on the hood of that tractor, rubbing them off and replacing them with new messages as the years wore on. The tractor is still chugging along, penciled notes still legible on its hood.
But unlike his grandfather, Guy doesn’t farm full-time, and he doesn’t even farm in Western North Carolina. His rented 1,800 acres are located near Abingdon, Virginia, where the land is less expensive and easier to work.
As a kid, he never expected that his adult life would include farming at all.
“I never even considered it,” said Guy. “I had bright lights and shooting for the moon expectations and got my engineering and my master’s of business at N.C. State and took some post-grad stuff from Harvard and jumped into the business world.”
Guy’s career path brought him to the head of the business unit for Fortune 500 pharmaceutical manufacturer Baxter Health Care, as well as to the post of quality and manufacturing director for industry-leading chemical companies. But he’s an entrepreneur at heart, and in 2004 Guy went full-time with a business he’d kept as a side hustle since high school — building with reclaimed hardwood. He’s now the owner of Bethel-based Appalachian Antique Hardwoods, LLC. He started raising cattle about 10 years ago, a decision that had more to do with giving his sons — ages 14, 11 and 9 — a quality childhood than with supplementing his income.
“Sometimes you make a little bit of money farming. Most of the time you don’t, but our mentality was if it gives our children the opportunity to have that set of skills, those experiences, those challenges, it’s a good investment into our family,” Guy said.
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