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Legacy in the land: Terry Rogers inducted to WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame

Rolling hills and forested mountains characterize the Rogers Cove land that Terry Rogers has farmed his whole life.  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy photo Rolling hills and forested mountains characterize the Rogers Cove land that Terry Rogers has farmed his whole life. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy photo

Nobody who knew Terry Rogers was surprised by the sprinkling of jokes that pervaded his acceptance speech. 

One was a story about a friend who came upon a frog that promised a kiss would turn it into a beautiful princess — “At my age,” the friend purportedly said, “I’d rather have a talking frog than some beautiful princess” — and another recounted what happened when Roger asked his pastor to pray for his hearing. The pastor laid hands on him, prayed and asked how his hearing was now, to which Rogers replied that it wasn’t now — it was “next week down at the courthouse.”

“Those few who know Terry know that when you see him, every time he’s going to tell a joke,” said Kyle Miller. “He may tell a lot of jokes, but I can assure you one thing. This man ain’t no joke. He’s the real deal. He’s selfless with his time and resources, and his intentions are sincere.’

Miller, who is president of the Haywood County Cattlemen’s Association, spoke while introducing Rogers at the 30th annual Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held Aug. 21 at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. Earlier this year, Miller nominated Rogers for induction to the prestigious WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame, and Rogers was selected as one of two people to receive the honor in 2020. The other was N.C. Secretary of Agriculture Steve Troxler. 

 

A farmer from birth

Rogers, 79, represents the fifth generation of his family to have farmed the same fields in the upper Crabtree area of Haywood County. Family ancestor John H. Rogers, son of Revolutionary War soldier Hugh Rogers and Fines Creek native Nancy Thornton Rogers, first purchased the land nearly 200 years ago, and it’s been passed on to various Rogers descendants ever since. Rogers’ father Cassius McCracken Rogers was born in a one-room log cabin on the property, built right after the Civil War, and in 1941 Cassius and his wife Pauline Noland Rogers welcomed their son Terry into the world. 

“Terry became a farmer soon after he came home from the hospital as a newborn,” Miller said. “His mother would carry him while still an infant to the barn and place him in a feeding trough while she milked the cows.”

As Rogers grew, so did his interest in agriculture and his involvement on the family farm. At age 10, he joined 4-H and began showing calves, a skill he continued to develop after becoming an FFA member in high school. 

“We’ve raised corn on the farm all my life,” said Rogers. “We used it for silage and horse feed, cornmeal and grain. I guess the young people here probably don’t realize what a blessing it is to walk behind a horse and a cultivator for weeks on end.”

Rogers remembers what it was like to harvest corn without a tractor. They’d cut it one stalk at a time, lay it in a pile, combine the piles into shocks, then run it through the silage cutter to store as food for the livestock. 

They raised wheat, too. Rogers remembers how his grandfather would hire a neighbor to come in with a binder, cutting the wheat and packaging it into bundles. Threshing day would come months later, when the wheat had dried, and that was a community affair. A threshing machine would separate the wheat from the chaff. Then the men would bale the straw and take the wheat to the granary. It was hard work, and lunchtime — then referred to as “dinner” — was always an undisputed highlight of that eventful day. 

“The dinner that the threshers had was outstanding,” Rogers recalled. “The women of the community would come in, fix dinner, and that was an outstanding part of the day.”

 

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Terry celebrates his induction to the WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame surrounded by family, including his wife Fran, granddaughter Jessica Todd and three great-grandchildren. Donated photo

 

Commitment to community

Rogers has always been a farmer, but he hasn’t always been a fulltime farmer. 

After graduating from Iron Duff School in 1959, Rogers enrolled at Western Carolina College — now called Western Carolina University — and attended for one-and-a-half years before deciding that he’d rather work with his hands. He returned home, became a carpenter’s apprentice and enrolled at the sawmilling program at Haywood Technical Institute, now Haywood Community College. After he graduated, the school hired him to teach band saw classes, but two years later Rogers accepted a position as superintendent of the new company Carolina Log Homes. Two years after that he decided to open his own construction business. Rogers was the owner and operator of that custom home-building company until 1997. 

But, even as his career evolved, Rogers never lost his connection to the land in upper Crabtree. While he operated the construction business, Rogers also helped his dad farm burley tobacco, corn, hay and beef cattle. And when his father could no longer work the land himself, Rogers quit the carpentry business and began farming fulltime. That remained his occupation until 2018, when he decided to retire and lease out the land for someone else to farm. 

Rogers’ life is marked by commitment to family, but also to community. 

“When this first began, I thought that I knew Terry Rogers,” said Miller. “But little did I know it was just the tip of the iceberg. The more I dug, the more I found. Why did this surprise me? I don’t know. Terry has such a humble spirit. He’s not one to go around bragging.”

Rogers served on the Haywood Community College Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2007 and was also a member of the Haywood County Planning Board.  He has been a member of both the Haywood County Cattlemen’s Association Board of Directors and the Haywood County Farm Bureau Board of Directors for more than 30 years, serving as president of both organizations for significant periods of time. 

Rogers didn’t just lend his name to those organizations’ rosters. He also lent his passion and energy toward fulfilling their missions. Rogers has attended every N.C. Farm Bureau Convention as well as many national conventions. In the 1990s he organized the effort that resulted in the founding of the WNC Preconditioned Cattle Marketing Association and eventually evolved into the WNC Regional Livestock Center in Canton. The center has greatly increased local cattle farmers’ ability to command competitive prices for their cattle, and in 2018 the facility marked $100 million in sales since opening in 2011. He’s also spent many hours in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., meeting with lawmakers to discuss agriculture issues. 

“Terry has always been on the front end of agriculture issues and farming practices,” Miller said. 

Rogers is an outspoken proponent of agricultural research, because he’s seen the impact of it firsthand over his lifetime. 

“I had a cousin about 1952 that had a corn test plot, and the farmers went in and shucked his corn and he had 100 bushels an acre,” said Rogers. “Now, that was pretty good at that time, 1952. Well, I just read recently in 2019 a farmer had 600 bushels on an acre. Now this is amazing. And this was accomplished through research.”

The cattle business has also benefited significantly from agricultural research, he said.

“You young people, you need to remember a few years ago they tried to sell the research station, and we got together some farmers and political people and got it stopped,” he said. “You better keep your ears and eyes open, or they’ll try that again. But don’t let it happen, because research is the most important thing we can have to have food to eat in this country.”

 

Eyes on the future 

The older Rogers has become, the more he’s realized the importance those young people have to the future of food in America. Over the last 100 years, the average age of farmers in North Carolina and nationwide has risen sharply, while the total acreage of agricultural land has fallen dramatically. 

“Terry realizes that the future of anything — whether it be a church, profession, anything, is the younger generation — so he made that his focus,” said Miller. 

Rogers helped start the heifer training program at Tuscola and Pisgah high schools by donating a calf to each one, and for the past 30 years he’s been involved with organizing the Haywood County Cattleman’s Association Annual Beef Roast, which raises money for youth activities and scholarships. He and his wife Fran endowed two college scholarships and gave generously to other scholarship efforts, and he’s a common sight at county and state fairs. 

“If you went to the Mountain State Fair, you saw Terry,” said Miller. “He was always handing out the youth participation awards.”

The future of agriculture relies not only on the development of young farmers, but also on the preservation of land for them to tend. That’s why, in 2018, Rogers placed a conservation easement on his property that will prevent it from being developed for housing, commerce or some other invasive use after he no longer owns it. 

The easement was part of a 385-acre project the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy completed at Rogers Cove, protecting the 160 acres owned by Terry and Fran Rogers as well as the land of family members Edwin and Lucene Rogers and Mark and Laura Rogers. 

“I’ve worked this land all my life,” Rogers told the conservancy at the time, “working with both my paternal and maternal grandparents, as well as my own parents. I’ve seen the hard work my ancestors put into being good stewards of the properties, never holding a public job, but depending on the farm and woodland to make a living for their families. Like them, I have tried to be a good steward of what God has blessed me with, and I don’t want this beautiful property turned into a housing development in the future.”

Nomination to the WNC Agriculture Hall of Fame requires only two recommendation letters, but Rogers’ file contains four such letters, all extolling his agricultural expertise, quiet leadership, investment in youth, support of science and all-around deservedness of recognition. There could be no better addition to the Hall of Fame than Rogers, Miller said. 

“As you can see,” Miller concluded, “Terry has devoted his life to being an advocate for agriculture. He’s an important part of shaping modern agriculture in Western North Carolina.”

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