Planting the Seed of Conservation
Ezra and Marian Gilliam have permanently protected their family's 75-acre farm in Rowan County. Working with The LandTrust for Central North Carolina, they placed a conservation easement on the property to conserve the farm and fulfill Ezra's father's wishes.
It was Ezra’s father, Coke Gilliam, who planted the conservation seed, the spark of inspiration. Coke and their family moved from Jersey City to the area to look for a farm, “so the children could learn to work and wouldn’t grow up in the streets.” He bought the farm in 1922 for $3,200.
They raised corn, beans, apples, cucumbers, pumpkins, peanuts, sweet potatoes, grapes, peaches, and chickens and hogs. They experienced tough times living through the Depression, but always had food on the table and meat all year long because the farm sustained them.
According to Ezra, “We had everything, but we were very nearly poor. During those Depression years, we heard about the Depression but never suffered, and it was all because of the basic philosophy of my mother and father.” During a time when food security wasn’t a buzzword, the Gilliam family believed in food security. They believed that if you take care of the land, it’ll take care of you.
Ezra's parents had 8 children, and his father firmly believed that the family farm should be kept intact, so it could support them in case of future depression times. Coke gave the greater portion of the farm to Ezra, and gave his other 7 children other assets of equal value, but assets that wouldn’t divide up the farmland.
Ezra has lived his life guided by four guiding principles that his parents encouraged: “righteousness, value of work, integrity, and dependability”. He is a wonderful community leader of days gone past, being a principal of the former black high school and staying involved with community and agriculture issues over the years.
Ezra is well respected in the farming community and with good reason. He recently rotated off as an advisor to the Farm Service Agency, and as a member of the Farm Committee of Cooperative Extension. He is an active Board member of the Nazareth Children’s Home, and a member of the Dunbar Alumni Association. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Livingstone College, a degree in Agriculture from NC A&T, and a Masters from Iowa State.
He has also been implementing Best Management Practices for years, and is on the cutting edge of farming. He recently built a state-of-the art cattle facility that’s one-of-it’s-kind in Rowan County. It has water wells and even has a place to store manure. He has also constructed a pasture fencing complex complete with new wells and stream fencing.
“The conservation easement is protecting a piece of prime farmland, but it is also protecting a way of life that is disappearing, the small family farm,” says Michele d’Hemecourt, Land Protection Specialist with The LandTrust for Central North Carolina. “This farm and the Gilliam family’s philosophy are an example of how the farm can be kept together through generations, and how a piece of land can sustain a family. I hope their story inspires others as much as it has inspired me.”
Top photo of Ezra and Marian Gilliam on their farm in Rowan County, courtesy of The LandTrust for Central North Carolina.
Middle photo of Ezra Gilliam with Michele d’Hemecourt, land protection director at The Land Trust for Central North Carolina, who orchestrated the conservation easement donation.