5 min read ·
Anyone who has visited North Hills in the fall and during the holidays is very familiar with our pumpkin patch and Christmas tree lots. North Hills takes great pride in being able to offer this service to our residents and visitors, and we also take great pride in our partnership with the farm that makes these lots possible, Shepherd’s Way Farms. This family farm is located in Laurel Springs, North Carolina, in Ashe County, and their North Hills lot can be found right off Lassiter Mill Road, behind JCPenney.
One of the farm’s owners, Bonnie Moser, also happens to work at North Hills as Director of Kane Residential. Bonnie says she is frequently asked if her connection as an employee at North Hills is why they were invited to open the lots here, and she’s quick to respond that Shepherd’s Way Farms was present at North Hills before she joined the Kane Realty family. So what is it about this farm that has made its lot such a special contributor to North Hills over the past five years? We had a chance to ask Bonnie about that and how Shepherd’s Way Farms helps to create a meaningful holiday experience at North Hills year after year.
Shepherd’s Way Farms has been in your family for 150 years. Please explain the history of the farm and its current ownership structure within your family.
Bonnie Moser: My great, great, great grandfather, John F. Shepherd, purchased the farm prior to the Civil War. It has been handed down from generation to generation over the years to the current owner, my mother, Sally Shepherd Dickens. My parents, Jarvis and Sally Dickens, converted the ownership of the farm into a limited liability corporation in an attempt to keep the remaining land and farm in the family. My siblings and I are all equal shareholders of the trust along with my parents. In addition, it is also registered in the Farmland Preservation Trust.
What is grown on the farm?
BM: We grow Fraser Fir Christmas trees, over 80 varieties of pumpkins, heirloom pumpkins, and gourds for retail sales. In addition, we have a small vegetable garden, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and apples. The remainder of the acreage is in timber.
Your husband Tim is the farm manager, and you are very involved with the management of the farm. How does that work with you living in Raleigh?
BM: My husband is self-employed as a contractor and consultant, which allows for some flexibility with his time. He has been at the farm at least once per week every week since May. This is typical from year to year. He will continue to make weekly trips until Christmas. In January and February, he rests as the farm “rests.” I join him on weekend trips to the farm when we do not have any retail lots open. We run the business together. During weekend visits, we can be doing anything from planting, to scouting for pests and diseases, to harvesting of the pumpkins and gourds, to tagging trees for harvest. We also have a farm worker who lives on the farm and is there daily to work and oversee the operations. My parents live on the farm, and they take care of many of the day-to-day needs on the farm.
In addition to your North Hills lot, you have two other places where you sell in Raleigh. Where are those lots located?
BM: We have one lot at 8300 Leesville Road in North Raleigh near Leesville Road High School and another one at the corner of Creedmoor and Norwood Roads at the BP gas station.
In general, when are the lots in operation?
BM: We will open our Christmas tree lots by November 21, the weekend before Thanksgiving. The lots are open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Monday – Thursday and 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Friday – Sunday.
You’ve said that selling your products directly to your customers is more fun than wholesale. Why is that?
BM: When you are selling your trees and pumpkins wholesale, you don’t have any interaction with the customers who are enjoying your product. The relationships that we have made over the years have turned our customers into friends. We have been a part of marriage proposals, weddings, first babies, second babies, and beyond. It is so rewarding to watch someone pick out their first “live” Christmas tree. It is even more special to have them come back year after year for a “live” tree. We have helped a newly widowed elderly man pick out mums and pumpkins for his porch because his wife would have wanted him to. We have provided trees to families who would not have one otherwise. There is nothing like that to help you get in the mood for the holidays.
Your pumpkins earned awards at this year’s State Fair. What awards did you win, and how have your customers reacted to that?
BM: We won first place for Best Large Pumpkin and first place for Best Field Pumpkin. Our customers were surprised and happy to see our pumpkins during their visit to the fair this year. They enjoyed knowing that the pumpkins they were taking to their porches and stoops were grown from award-winning seeds. We often hear from our customers that they have never seen as much variety on a pumpkin lot as we have, and they often ask us if we enter the State Fair. It was fun to get to do that this year.
The farm has also provided trees and wreaths for the Governor’s mansion and wreaths for the White House. How did that happen, and what did it mean to your family and the farm?
BM: Annually, the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association has a contest for the best Christmas tree and wreath. The winner of the state competition is eligible to enter the national competition. Tim entered both the tree and wreath competitions for both the state and national level. He won the state and the national wreath competition, thus allowing him to place wreaths in the White House during the Clinton administration for two years. In addition, he won the state competition twice and placed Christmas trees in the Governor’s mansion for two years while Governor Hunt was in office.
What is your relationship with your employees in the Triangle?
BM: Most of our employees in the Triangle have worked with us for multiple years in a row. Most of them started working while they were still in high school, and many have continued to work through college and beyond. We have approximately 40 workers on our three lots during the season. It is very important to us that our workers understand our customer service culture and can embrace this philosophy. We have a great group of young men and women who feel more like family to us than employees.
You all are hosting Santa again this year at North Hills. How does this fit in with the mission of your business?
BM: Of course, the real reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Christ, God’s gift to the world. Synonymous with gift giving is Santa! We are excited to create another opportunity for our customers/friends to enrich their tradition with a visit with Santa at our Christmas tree lot.