Farm stand persists for love, not money
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – At the end of a gravel driveway at the back entrance into the MacAulay subdivision there used to be an enormous, hand-painted sign with screaming, foot-tall letters advertising blackberries for sale.
The sign and the wares it advertised were the handiwork of Hairl Russell, who has lived at the other end of that gravel driveway for 42 years. Russell continues to farm his land even after all of the farms that used to surround him have been sold and turned into subdivisions and commercial developments. He’s become an anomaly by doing what he’s always done. Huntersville has changed drastically over the past few decades; Hairl Russell has remained the same.
Russell made his living driving trucks for more than 50 years until retiring two years ago.
But Russell has also farmed his land since he first moved here in 1970, growing fruits and vegetables and selling off whatever he didn’t need.
MacAulay wasn’t a subdivision back then. It was a cattle farm. And Huntersville wasn’t a fast-growing de-facto city, it was a sleepy little town of fewer than 1,500.
“Back at that time, Sam Furr Road used to average about three vehicles a day across it, and two of them was this old man with a big old white poodle dog and a Jeep truck that owned the farm over there at Beatties Ford Road and (N.C.) 73, Babe Stillwell,” Russell said.
Russell worked for the company that hauled much of the heavy equipment and supplies used to build McGuire Nuclear Station from the railway to the construction site. . Russell said, McGuire owner Duke Power found a way around the five-ton limit posted on two-lane Sam Furr Road. The sign mysteriously disappeared during nighttime truck runs.
“They’d get over there, and there wasn’t no sign that said five-ton weight limit. Somebody had taken that sign,” Russell said, laughing. “After they got through, though, that sign would be back there.”
Russell’s produce stand consists of a card table, scale, refrigerator, and a mason jar-cash register. It’s always open, and operates on the honor system.
But Russell’s usually there, gnawing on a cherry twig (a habit he acquired after giving up chewing tobacco). And while he’s happy to take a few dollars for his produce, he’s happier still to talk about what’s growing well and what isn’t, about his cat Midnight and her two kittens.
Or even about the spelling of his first name. Russell’s mother delivered him at home, in the mountains of western Virginia. When the country doctor who had delivered him asked his mother what she wanted to name him, she said, “Harold.” In a thick, western Virginia accent. The doctor spelled it the way he heard it.
Asked whether he wants to be called “H-A-I-R-L” or “H-A-R-O-L-D,” Russell laughs.
“Either. They’re both pronounced the same.”
At Hairl Russell’s farm, the produce is good; the stories are priceless.
Want to go?
Hairl Russell’s produce stand is located on Hugh McAuley Road, just south of its intersection with Northcross Drive. He currently has broccoli, squash and onions for sale. He expects to have corn, cucumbers, and blackberries by mid-June, plums by late June, and peaches, watermelon and cantaloupe in mid-July.