If you’re interested in a history of farm life in Buncombe County, the University of North Carolina at Asheville has a 90-minute audiocassette of an interview with James and Elspeth Clarke, Fairview, N.C. Elspeth (1923-2001) was the daughter of James G.K. McClure, who began the Farmers’ Federation Cooperative in 1920. James “Jamie” Clark (1917-1999) was associate editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times and served two terms in the North Carolina Legislature. The couple talks about life between the 1930s and 1995.
Here’s the UNC-Asheville’s summary of the information in the taped interview:
“Both James and Elspeth discuss the effects of the Depression on the area, especially the effect on agriculture. Elspeth describes her father's efforts to start a farmers' cooperative to create a better market for selling produce, and both she and James discuss their work with this cooperative. James discusses his terms of office on the Buncombe County Board of Education, and the NC State Legislature. They both discuss the McClure Foundation, which is designed to give funds to technical schools and students with ability who need financial assistance. They describe the changes that have occurred in the foundation over time, and discuss changes that they foresee in the future. They discuss the education and occupations of their eight children.”
“James came to Asheville in his teens during the Depression, and saw the effects on the economy of the area. Elspeth's parents came here on their honeymoon, and her mother was advised to move here after the Civil War because the growing season was better for farming. Her father worked on the farm and preached, and in 1920 began the Farmers' Federation. He had problems selling his produce, and got the idea of starting a cooperative in Fairview, NC. In 1921 he built warehouses and developed markets for farmers, who would sell to the warehouse and buy from the co-op. Both James and Elspeth have been active in this endeavor.
“For 8-10 years James was associate editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times. He was in the Pacific for two years, and was serving in Washington, DC, when he and Elspeth were married. He wanted to continue with the cooperative, so they returned. He also served eight years on the Buncombe County Board of Education, and was elected chairman. He served two terms in the NC Legislature, ran for the State Senate and then Congress. They have eight children and have been married for fifty years.”
For a detailed description of what’s on the tape, go to http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/oralhistory/VOA/A_C/Clarke_J&E.html
Information in this blog concerning the Farmers Federation Cooperative can be found at
The Federation merged with FCX in 1959.
You also might be interested in reading We Plow God’s Fields by John Curtis Ager, a biography of James G.K. McClure.
The family farm, Hickory Nut Gap Farm, is still in operation, still owned by McClures, and has a website. To read about the current operation and/or buy its products, see http://www.hickorynutgapfarm.com/history.php.