A 'farmed' childhood in Sawmills
Growing up on a farm is an experience set apart from growing up in a home with a few cats and dogs as pets. According to siblings Clay Wilson and Olivia Wilson Ford, growing up on a bona-fide farm involves learning at an earlier age than most about the circle of life, how to drive, the value of agriculture and the importance of hard work.
Right from the start, the two siblings were involved in the work it takes to run a farm.
“We had a heifer and a bull apiece, my brother and I did,” Ford said, “and we had to come down here and feed them before we got on the (school) bus. The bus came at 10 'til 7 every morning, so our responsibility was to come down here and feed and water our calves before we went to school.”
By the age of 8, Ford could drive a dump truck. Wilson was able to drive the Bobcat skid-steer by the age of 5. The neighbors thought the skid-steer ran by remote control because no one could see him inside while he drove, he said.
The farm started as a dairy farm with 40-50 head of cattle that were milked three times a day by Johnny Wilson and his father, J.C. Wilson. By the time Clay Wilson and Ford were born, the farm also raised beef cattle.
Now Johnny Wilson Farm in Sawmills has 100 head of cattle, about 40 calves, meat sheep, honeybees, flowers, horses and Porky the pot-bellied pig crossbreed, who has a taste for Oreos. A bursting garden produces tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, squash, beets, cucumbers, watermelon, eggplant and 40 acres of corn, which are sold at their stand by the road Monday through Saturday. They make their own grain and grow their own wheat for the horses and cattle. The farm also offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze planned out and built by Clay Wilson, tractor rides and baby animal encounters in the fall for children.
“We’re trying to be as self-sustaining as we can be,” Ford said.
Johnny Wilson, his wife, Dean, and Clay Wilson work there full-time. Ford, helps out when she is not working at her full-time job at Caldwell County EMS as a paramedic. There is also a full-time employee who helps out with odd jobs and harvesting in the garden.
Ford and Wilson spent their afternoons as kids much differently from how many children spend their childhoods today. Their grandmother had a snack ready for them then they did chores around the farmhouse like collecting wood, sweeping the porch and helping with dinner. Ford said there was little time for television.
“They always believed that homework could be done when the lights were on,” Ford said, “that we needed to use daylight to do the stuff that needed to be done outside.”
Ford said that her first heifer, Star, is still alive and on the farm.
“She has several (calves) out there, her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters that do look similar, but I still know which one she is,” Ford said.
One of Ford's most memorable moments growing up was during the calving season when she was in high school.
“My dad was at work. I had a chorus concert my junior year of high school,” Ford said. “(My) hair was in rollers, and we had noticed one of Star’s offspring, I would say it was probably her granddaughter, had gotten bred too soon. She was too young to have a calf.”
When the heifer went into labor that night, Ford called her dad in a panic because the calf was stuck. Johnny Wilson said to get some rope and tie it around the calf’s feet. She hooked the rope to the nearby Gator utility vehicle. In hysterics thinking the cow and calf would die, Ford was flooded with relief to see her uncle coming down the road in the hay wagon.
“I got in the Gator and just let it inch down the hill real slow,” Ford said. “I mean, I didn’t even use the gas pedal, just took the brake off a little bit at a time, and he kept helping the baby come out. The baby came out. It was not breathing. We thought we had lost it, so we cleaned out its mouth and nose and started rubbing its belly to stimulate it. It started breathing. So, that was a very happy day.”
The farm is at 2675 Dry Ponds Road, Granite Falls. For special event planning, contact Olivia Ford at 828-217-1874. For landscaping and produce questions, call Clay Wilson at 828-312-3080. For additional information, contact Johnny Wilson at 828-312-4235.