July 3, 2016- Blue Ridge Now

A freshly painted sign along Kanuga Road tells the story of three sisters who went their separate ways after high school, but have reunited to preserve a family legacy that dates back to the late 1700s.

“Johnson Family Farm, the Next Generation,” reads the green and yellow sign in front of a soon-to-open produce stand and u-pick farm at Kanuga Road and Erkwood Drive, a stone's throw from the Hendersonville city line.

The new venture brings a huge smile – and a sense of relief – to Kirby Johnson, father of the three sisters and descendant of Irishman James Johnson, who settled into a life of farming seven generations ago when he and his family built a home in the Shaw's Creek area of what was then part of Buncombe County.

“My father, my grandfather and everybody before him was a farmer,” Johnson said as his daughters — Letha Ducker, Heather Price and Kelli Campbell — prepared to open for business on July 12. “That's where I started, and that's where I want to end up. I'm going to be on a farm until I die.”

Ducker, oldest of the three siblings, says she agrees with her father that too many sons and daughters of farming families in Western North Carolina are leaving home to pursue other professions.

“I think it's true and I hate it,” said Ducker, a hair stylist and makeup artist who remembers selling vegetables at her family's produce stands at age 12. “I think we're going to lose all of our traditions unless we do something about it.”

Campbell, a Clemson University graduate and former elementary school teacher in South Carolina, says she will miss teaching but welcomes the chance to continue the family legacy. She also said the timing is perfect, since she'll be able to spend more time with her children, one of whom has been facing serious health issues.

Though she is the youngest of the three sisters, Campbell will manage the produce stand and 4-acre pick-it-yourself vegetable farm, which will feature corn, greasy-back beans, tomatoes and green peppers grown from heirloom seeds that go back several generations.

“We want our children to see how it was done throughout our family (history),” Campbell said. “It's going to help all of our kids learn how to interact with the elders and how to respect others and learn the value of a dollar.”

Price couldn't agree more.

“We can teach them life lessons, and they'll pass them on to their kids and keep the legacy alive,” she said.

“But you know,” Price added, smiling as she watched her father walk by. “None of this could have happened without our father. He instilled the need for the next generation to carry out the legacy.”

And the rest, everyone agrees, will become history.

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