John and Deborah Sherrill, Alleghany County outside Sparta

Written by: Amy Ager

John and Deborah Sherrill have nestled their farming operation in Alleghany County just outside of Sparta along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Cattle graze the high pasture in summer alongside the rhododendron that smart mountain cattle know better than to eat. They run their cow calf operation on large farm and rotate their cows within and among three main sections of fenced areas with centralized frost-free waterers. 

The day we visited in October the red and yellow color of the trees and warm sun at our backs gave a confidence that the dry summer was conceding and fall was indeed settling in to stay. The mountains around us were lending their soils to many agricultural endeavors including pumpkins, nursery crops and Christmas trees. We followed a trailer in the winding road to the Sherrill’s Farm that had two year old fraser fir seedlings ready to be set on the steep mountainside with the promise of making a child’s day to be picked out in 10 years time. 

John Sherrill and Sam Dobson

John and Deborah have settled back into this holler to a place he as young boy enjoyed while growing up in North Carolina. This nostalgia of summer has turned into a year round farming endeavor and they have turned their heads towards organic livestock production while placing their mountain farm in an agricultural conservation easement. Other things that go right along with their mountain lifestyle are Deborah’s tall red dahlias gracing the space between age old hydrangeas. I bet there isn’t a day between April and November where her table isn’t graced with the dessert plate sized blooms. 

They were expecting us that morning and looking forward to taking us up to see the cows. The night before, however, they had received some unexpected news of the death of a friend and founder of Deborah’s passion, Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musicians, or otherwise fondly called JAM or AJAM. It seemed fitting we go over to the JAM house that morning as she had some business to attend to in preparing a wall for a mural donated by two artists who had committed their time to sharing their talents of music and art to grace the building. Each week 70 young students practice learning the traditional music of the Appalachian region in this house that was built in the early 1900s by a senator for his wife who wasn’t too keen on living in Raleigh. The wood floors, beadboard walls and drafting windows seem a quintessential place as any to teach young musicians the traditional music of their land and the value of community gatherings. 

It’s a nice pairing, John and Deborah, the mountains and cow calf operations, dahlias and hydrangeas, Appalachian music and investing in children. The Sherrill’s have put together an enjoyable life up there in Alleghany County and I would predict future generations will be grateful for their forethought and the energy they have put towards realizing their vision and legacy.

John Sherrill and Amy Ager