Waightstill Avery inducted into Western North Carolina Hall of Fame
Avery County native Waightstill Avery received an honor of distinction with induction into the Western North Carolina Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy WNC Communities MILLS RIVER — A pioneer of the Christmas tree industry in Northwest North Carolina, William Waightstill Avery was inducted into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame on Friday, May 26. WNC Communities held its 27th Annual Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. This annual event recognizes stewards of the Western North Carolina agribusiness sector and honors the visionaries and leaders of the agriculture industry.
For more than 45 years, Waightstill Avery has been a driving force for agriculture in Western North Carolina and beyond. He was a pioneer in developing the Christmas tree industry and has experimented with many other new agricultural enterprises including medicinal herbs and agritourism. His work with youth in the 4-H program was instrumental in shaping the lives of young people in the mountains.
Born in Banner Elk, Avery grew up on a farm that was deeded to his family by King George III during revolutionary times. After graduating from Lees-McRae College and earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from N.C. State University, Avery started his career in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, where he served in Yancey, Mitchell and Avery counties.
Early in his career, Avery worked as a 4-H agent and participated in the Western District Leadership Conference, while he also served as an advisor at the NC State 4-H Club Congress. Avery was actively involved in 4-H when the movement from school-based programs to community 4-H clubs began, working to locate, recruit and train new 4-H leaders for the new community clubs, encouraging parents to work with youth in the community. Many of the 4-H clubs that Avery helped create have lasted for more than 30 years.
In addition to his work with youth, Avery played a seminal and pivotal role in establishing the Christmas tree industry in WNC. During Avery’s tenure as Extension Agent and County Extension Director, Fraser Fir production dramatically increased throughout the entire western region. Under NEXT Don't Miss! - 8/10 his leadership, the number of Christmas tree producers in Avery County increased to more than 900 growers.
Avery formed a county growers’ association to help aid in the growing, marketing and production of Fraser Firs and taught many growers how to successfully market their trees. Through contacts nationwide, he was able to make Fraser Firs a household name. “I think it’s safe to say, with confidence, that if you asked any agricultural leader or farmer with a historical perspective on the WNC Christmas tree industry that Waightstill’s name would be among the first names mentioned as an innovative leader in developing this important WNC agricultural enterprise,” Dr. C. Michael Brooks, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said. Avery also pioneered the marketing concept of the mail order Christmas tree. Originally working through catalogs, the mail order service now includes TV and Internet sales.
Avery also has an enormous influence on agriculture by encouraging farmers to diversify, which was particularly critical as many WNC farmers transitioned from tobacco as a primary cash crop. He worked with N.C. State Extension specialists and other farmers to experiment and develop alternative farm products appropriate for small family farms. Some of those initiatives include seedling production, berries, shrubbery, hops and farm fresh vegetables from local markets.
Presently, along with Christmas trees, Avery is growing vegetables and fruits for local farmers markets. He is currently the president of the Avery County Farmers Market, a past president of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association and Board of Director on the National Christmas Tree Association.