Few family farms have the distinction of being designated as Century Farms, an honor given to farms that have remained in the family for at least 100 years. But Billy and Vilena Smith of Surry County can claim something even more rare — they have two Century Farms.
Billy and Vilena Smith have been married for 58 years, and they are joint owners of farms from each side of the family. Billy was handed down his family’s farm on Mountain Park Road, and Vilena, whose maiden name is Mitchell, was handed down the Mitchell farm in Dobson. Each of these farms have been kept in their families for at least 100 years, leading the Surry County Register of Deeds office to assist the family in obtaining the state “Century Farms” distinction recently.
Now the Smith and Mitchell farms proudly bear signs displaying their designation as Century Farms. The state, through the N.C. Department of Agriculture, gives that distinction to farms that have been continuously held by a family for at least 100 years. According to Register of Deeds Carolyn Comer, Surry County is home to 34 Century Farms out of the roughly 1,600 recognized in the state.
The Surry County Register of Deeds office has assisted several residents in researching and documenting the chain of property ownership so their farms could receive the Century Farm designation. Comer said the Smith family was assisted by Teresa Smith, a deputy register in her office who is not related to Billy and Vilena Smith.
“We’re always happy to assist our county’s residents in such searches,” Comer said. “Our staff is trained and well versed in digging through all the multiple layers of documents and filings needed to establish such a chain of ownership. Still, the effort can be quite a daunting task, and especially so for those who aren’t familiar with the records … so we’re always happy to help.”
She continued, “Teresa Smith of our staff … did much of the research necessary to locate the documents needed to qualify the Smith and Mitchell farms. Teresa does a great deal of work for the public on genealogical searches and really enjoys the challenge.”
Comer, who grew up helping in tobacco fields in Surry County, said she is proud her office can assist farms in qualifying for the Century Farm recognition. She said, “If there’s a farm out there that qualifies for this distinction … we want to do everything we can to insure that they’re recognized. I congratulate Billy and Vilena and am proud our office could assist them.”
Vilena Smith said of getting the designation, “I think we’ve been extremely lucky to do that.”
The 62-acre Mitchell farm was passed down to Vilena from her father, and it has now been in her family for more than 100 years. Her great-grandfather Billy Mitchell gave the 62 acres to her grandfather, and the land eventually became hers. Now show goats are raised on the farm and the land is used for pasture. There are also a few horses and other animals on the farm.
The Smith farm is around 52 acres. It is mostly used for hay, Vilena said, and part of the land is rented for use.
Billy and Vilena Smith live next to the Smith farm on 23 acres they bought years ago. Their son, Bruce, lives at the Mitchell Farm and is responsible for its upkeep. Vilena said the couple plans to pass that farm down to their son and pass the Smith farm to their daughter, Susan.
“These two farms are to be passed down … We wanted to do it, and our forefathers wanted us to do it. They strived to keep it in the family,” Vilena remarked.
According to statistics found by Comer, there were more than 253,000 farms in North Carolina a century ago. Now that number has dropped to around 52,000, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture for North Carolina. The state began recognizing working farms that had remained in the family for 100 years in 1970.
Contact Meghann Evans at 719-1952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.