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100 years of farming

Story and photos by: Glen Liford 1/28/2019


Tobacco barns like this one that sits on a steep ridge have been converted to house hay at Cedar Cliff Farm.
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It’s been 100 years since Louie Albert Zimmerman Sr., purchased his first parcel of property in the western North Carolina mountains where he would establish the family’s Cedar Cliff Farm.

Today his grandson, Louie Ray (Louie R.), son of Louie Albert Zimmerman Jr., and great grandson, Cody, carry on the patriarch’s legacy with a thriving beef cattle and hay operation on the family’s original farm in Marshall County, N.C., and at several locations across the state line in Greene County.

Louie A. Zimmerman Sr. was raised amidst the wheat fields of Kansas and graduated from Wichita State University with a degree in agriculture. He and his wife, the former Emma Jaunita Engle, were recruited by the Presbyterian Church to come to Appalachia to serve as missionaries as part of the church’s emphasis on education and faith. They arrived in the area in 1917.

Within two years, the couple was ensconced in the close-knit community and bought a farm. He pastored five churches — preaching at two churches on one Sunday and at the other three churches the following Sunday.

“He was a steady worker,” recalls Louie R., noting that his grandfather would work every day on the farm, preparing sermons between chores.

He named his new home Cedar Cliff Farm for the adjacent granite outcroppings and the property’s ubiquitous evergreens. He set about improving the farm, filling in deep gullies, and implementing modern agriculture methods like rotational grazing and contour plowing to control erosion.

“If you look closely at these hillsides, you can still see some of the markings from those old planting practices,” says Louie R.

The elder Zimmerman grew corn and wheat, raised pigs, and milked cows. He also had tenants who grew tobacco. He and his wife raised seven children, who each went on to attend Presbyterian schools and obtain their college degrees. Louie A. Jr. was the eldest son.

The family’s agricultural pursuits continued through Louie Albert Zimmerman Jr.’s lifetime, until the family quit milking in the 1980s and stopped growing tobacco in 2008. Louie A. Jr. and his wife, the former Francis Pauline Ray, also worked as teachers at Laurel High School and raised seven children on the farm.

Louie R. attended the school where his parents taught and recalls that it wasn’t always easy.

“My junior year I had mom for English and social studies and Dad for algebra, trigonometry, and physics,” he says. “There wasn’t any lying about your homework.”

After high school, Louie R. tried college but found he preferred to work outside, learning to weld and entering the construction business. Over the years, he traveled throughout the South with his jobs, returning home to the farm on weekends. He became a DOT-certified welder and worked on numerous construction projects, equipment, and bridges. He then joined the pipefitters union and went to work at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant as a welder. He was laid off from his job in 1988 and returned to the farm for good.

He married wife Sandy in 1983, and son Cody was born in 1987. Daughter Rachel was born in 1995.

Louie R. began following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps at an early age. He recalls his first paying job on the farm — helping his grandfather put up hay with a wagon and a pitchfork.

“He paid me 12-and-a-half cents an hour,” says Louie R. “I worked for two hours, and he wrote me a check for a quarter. I went to the local store and cashed that check, bought a drink, a snack, and had a nickel left over. That was 1964, and 54 years later I’m still in the hay business.”

Louie R. now owns six of the seven deeds that made up his grandfather’s farm. His brother, Robert, who lives in the family homeplace just across the ridge, owns the seventh. The North Carolina farm consists of about 150 acres. Cody and wife Lindsay and their 19-month-old daughter Ryla live on a farm in Greene County. Daughter Rachael and husband Mathew live on a nearby North Carolina farm and maintain their own little herd of cattle and help operate a Christmas tree farm with Mathew’s family.

The father and son duo manage a beef operation consisting of 150 or so mama cows, along with 150 calves, yearlings, and heifers, and five herd bulls. They grow hay for their cattle and produce premium forages, which they market to horse owners. Last year, they harvested some 25,000 total square bales of alfalfa and orchardgrass, Timothy, and Kentucky bluegrass hay, 1,000 rolls of silage, and 300 dry rolls of hay.

Looking ahead has always been a family trait. And Louie A. Zimmerman Sr. was careful to make sure the farm was in better shape than he found it when it was passed to his children, says Louie R.

“The farm was very well taken care of,” he says. “Grandpa left it better than he found it. My dad left it better than he found it. And I’m hoping to leave it better than I found it.

“It’s a neat little corner of the world.”

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