Anytime you join us for a meal, your first bite will most likely be of our warm, scratch-made, pepper-flaked biscuit with Tupelo Honey and our signature blueberry preserves. While it might seem like a simple pantry staple, there’s a lot of labor and love that goes into creating it.
The secret to our blueberry compote starts with the ingredients, and our partners at Imladris Farm in Fairview, NC, grow the mightiest blueberries on this side of the Appalachias. Walter Harrill and his family members before him have been tending to this land on the slopes of Spring Mountain for seven generations.
We hopped in Walt’s truck on a sunny Sunday afternoon, excited to reach our destination: Imladris’ 3.5-acre blueberry orchard, which was only accessible by hiking a mile up through knee-deep snow. While it seemed daunting at first, the beautiful view and history lesson from Walt and his 14-year-old son, Andy, made the hike well worth it. (And who doesn’t love an adventure?!) Driving slowly through the icy mountain roads, we learned the back story behind Imladris’ blueberry success.
From Humble Beginnings
The land Imladris (pronounced em’-la-dris) Farm currently sits on has been in Walt’s family since it was obtained by an early ancestor from the 1800s. In the 1940s, the entirety of the land, complete with farmhouse and barn, passed to Walt’s grandfather, Burgin Marlowe. The blueberry orchard, specifically, was passed down from Walt’s paternal grandfather, CB Harrill.
“My grandfather [Harrill] built this cabin and would stay tucked up here for a vast majority of the year. When blueberry season arrived, he suddenly turned on the charm for 6 weeks [the length of the blueberry harvest],” Walt laughed.
Walt and his wife Wendy inherited the present location of Imladris Farm in 1997. They have been making delicious jams and harvesting 65-year-old fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes and flower beds for the Asheville community to enjoy ever since.
Made for the Mountain South
We arrived at the base of the mountain, ready for the steep hike ahead of us. Strapping on our boots, we began our trek through the snowy, picturesque forest. The fresh, untouched powder proved perfect for snowball-making, and we ended up befriending a playful pup along the way.
After stopping for a few quick water breaks here and there, we finally made it to the orchard. We quieted, sat at a picnic table and took a moment to breathe in the beauty of the mountains. There was not a cloud in the sky as the sun made its slow descent. The snowy, laborious hike was 100 percent worth it for the amazing scenery and great company.
Despite the fact that North Carolina is now the 7th largest blueberry producer in the nation, there was a time when people doubted you could even grow them in the mountains. In the ’60s, Walt’s family started a “You-Pick” blueberry farm, even though nay-sayers believed that the mountains wouldn’t support it. Thankfully Imladris proved them wrong! Berries, especially of the blue, black and ‘rasp’ varieties, are extremely resilient and grow very well in the cold, dry air of the mountains. The land thrived in producing highbush blueberries – the tastiest, plumpest and juiciest variety in the market.
“While farms on the coast may have 60 acres to work with, we’re working with only a few at a time. Even with our 3-4 acres of blueberries, we still might be considered one of the larger farms,” Walt said. The mountains and granite provide their own challenges, but also provide their own unique flavor.
The only major threats? Hungry bears, itchy deers, and the occasional bobcat. (Walt pointed out a nearby den.)
“I don’t mind the bears eating a bit of the berries…that’s the price you pay to be able to work in this [environment],” Walt said. “But deer come through to scratch their antlers and just destroy the berry bushes.”
Preserving More Than Just Berries
Aside from harvesting bountiful fruits, jellies and jams have become a major driver of Imladris’ business over the years. Preserving not only increases the delicious-levels, but it also prolongs the life of the berry – a fundamental mountain tradition during the winter months when nothing grows. Mountain-grown blueberry jam is about as Appalachian as you can get.
“We forget that the jarring and preserving was a necessity. Now it’s a novelty of making it the best, but that is part of our heritage,” Walt said.
Berries aren’t the only thing Imladris wants to preserve. Maintaining the integrity of their land, upholding the quality of their products and staying true to family values is central to everything Imladris Farm does – and it shows.
“I nerd out over how we can do things better and make things more sustainable,” Walt said.
Imladris’ philosophy is also listed clearly for all to read on their website:
“We feel strongly that plants and animals, if supported and nurtured, will yield high quality materials unavailable through conventional, commercial means. We’ve made it our goal to return to early, simpler methods of agriculture and living.”
After spending an afternoon of blueberry bonding with Walt and Andy, we can attest that Imladris encompasses all of those values and more. You can expect nothing less than the best, thoughtfully-sourced blueberry jam from this farm.
Trust us, it’s worth the hike!