FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Joseph H. Gillis was inducted into the Cumberland County Agricultural Hall of Fame in a ceremony held at the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse this morning.
The event also recognized Jessica Gillis Lee as the 2023 Cumberland County Farm Bureau Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year.
Gillis was recognized during the annual Farm City event hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville. Gillis’ official portrait was unveiled during the ceremony and will hang on the wall with those of past inductees in the I.B. Julian Auditorium of the Cooperative Extension office at the Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center, located at 301 E. Mountain Dr.
Gillis, a ninth-generation farmer, grew up on his family farm in the Seventy-First Community of Cumberland County with his parents, Mary Stewart Gillis and J. McNatt Gillis, who served as a Cumberland County Commissioner for over 32 years.
Gillis graduated from N.C. State University in 1967 and returned to the family farm. He started with 300 acres of tobacco, corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, hay and straw. In addition, he had a 200-head cattle operation and a 1,000-head hog operation.
Gillis maintained his cattle on Fort Bragg, which is now Fort Liberty, at the military installation’s ammunition storage site as part of an effort to camouflage the site from aerial photographs during the Cold War.
By the mid-1990s, Gillis had expanded his farming operation to 2,500 acres and continued to grow tobacco until the tobacco allotment buyout program. Gillis leased his property to other local farmers who continued to grow row crops.
Today, Gillis’ main farming products are Coastal Bermuda hay and wheat straw. During the past four years, Gillis has produced and shipped wheat straw to over 25 states and is a distributor to many local stores as well as large chain stores.
“Joe is a man of great patriotism for his country, and he believes to be successful in agriculture, you must be willing to adapt to change and you must be a good steward of the land,” said Cumberland County Cooperative Extension Director Lisa Childers. “Joe has embodied the kind of resilience, the wisdom, the foresight and the innovation required to maintain a successful family farm.”
Over the years, Gillis has employed over 1,000 Cumberland and Hoke County residents – many of whom have started their own local businesses or farming operations.
Gillis has also contributed to agriculture by working alongside N.C. State University professors to refine the tobacco curing system and by collaborating with the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension office with test plots and field trials.
In 1973, Gillis received the Kiwanis Club and Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Young Farmer Award. More recently, Gillis Farm was recognized as a Bicentennial Farm, which is a distinction for those families which have maintained the family farm on the same property for more than 200 years. Jared Nucci and Katie Tisdale submitted the application to the N.C. Department of Agriculture after researching the farm, which dates to June 4, 1816.
Gillis has also served the community by volunteering on the Lake Rim Fire Department and has served on the Cumberland County Farm Bureau Board of Directors since 1970. He has served on the Farm Advisory Board, the Civic Center Commission and Board of Equalization and Review. Gillis also serves on the Cumberland County Livestock Association and has assisted throughout the years with the Cumberland County Fair Livestock shows.
In addition to supporting the agriculture community, Gillis has been a lifelong member of Galatia Presbyterian Church where he has served as a deacon and elder.
Gillis and his wife Betty have three children. His son, Joseph Gillis Jr., is now managing the straw operation.
Young Farmer of the Year
Continuing a long family tradition of agriculture, Jessica Gillis Lee operates Gillis Hill Produce in the Seventy-First area of western Cumberland County. From humble beginnings of selling produce at home to operating a successful produce stand, Lee has become a cornerstone of her community.
Lee was recognized and honored during the annual Farm City Week Luncheon, sponsored by Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville, Cumberland County Cooperative Extension, Cumberland County Farm Bureau, and AgCarolina Farm Credit.
Watch the 2023 Agricultural Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and a brief feature video on the Cumberland County’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/CumberlandCountyNC.