By Kate Griffin, posted Sep 22, 2022 on BizFayetteville.com
Gillis Hill Farm is a vast operating farm and agrotourism hotspot, owned by the Gillis family for nine generations. Located at 2701 Gillis Hill Rd in Fayetteville, Gillis Hill Farm incorporates family fun, history, and education in one place, along with some of the most delicious ice cream you’ll ever eat. Prominent members of the Fayetteville community, the Gillis family has operated from the same area since the mid-1700s. Now, as manager Andrew Gillis dives into the ever-expanding realm of agrotourism, Gillis Hill Farm stands firmly as a heartwarming testament to tenacious adaptivity and unrivaled work ethic.
While the ice cream shop alone is worth writing home about, Gillis Hill Farm goes above and beyond and takes guests on a walk through history.
“We thought the agro-tourism was a good opportunity to get the public to get to know us,” said Gillis. “That way they know who we are and that they would grow to appreciate us in the community that way. We have been in community involvement, politics in county agriculture programs and 4H programs for generations, but most of the population is so removed from the farm life and farm experience we wanted to do something that would spark their interest back in that.”
Encouraging the community to take a further notice of and interest in local farmers and the agriculture scene in the county is a forefront focus for the Gillis family. Gillis Hill Farm utilizes agrotourism as an interactive platform for education about the importance of farming. Locals and nonlocals alike will all find something to love about Gillis Hill Farm. Gillis Hill Farm also offers self-guided walking tours around their farm, a homemade ice cream shop, partnerships with the local family-owned Gillis Hill Road Produce stand, and explorable outbuildings with informational plaques. Accumulatively, the entirety of the Gillis homeplace is around 1,700 acres, but not to worry, the walking tours of Gillis Hill Farm take guests around ten. Walking tours include gorgeous views of the farm, antique farm equipment and outbuildings, and meetings with a menagerie of the friendliest animals, ranging from horses to rabbits, and even turkeys.
Arguably one of their most recognizable features, the ice cream shop operates from an old, repurposed farm building. The shop features a variety of delicious, homemade flavors for guests to choose from, in addition to a flavor of the month.
“The ice cream shop was getting bigger as well, so 2006 was when we started [the ice cream shop]. We restored one of the old houses here on the farm and opened the ice cream shop inside of it and slowly began increasing business.” said Gillis. “I used to make ice cream on one of those old John Deere hit or miss engines, that would run and make the ice cream that way.”
In addition to the plentiful outdoor picnic table seating, Gillis Hill Farm also offers both a picturesque front and back porches. It makes for a perfect setting for guests to relax in rocking chairs and enjoy their ice cream and the peaceful farm vistas.
In the fast-paced society of today, it is easy to get caught up in the fully automatized routine of individual life. It’s easy to not ask questions, but Gillis Hill Farms encourages the community to expand their paradigm. Think about where your food comes from, think about how the produce makes it to the grocery store shelves, and remember your local farmers of the community.
“It used to be that not too many years ago, you could ask who had either grown up on a farm or who had a parent who grew up on a farm, or even a grandparent that grew up on a farm, and most people in the community raised their hands,” said Gillis. “But now if you asked that same question, hardly anybody is gonna raise their hand, and that’s how far removed we’re getting from agriculture, and the farther the community is removed from agriculture, the less they appreciate it until it's gone. So, the tourism really helps us to give us a voice and to help remind the community why agriculture is important.”
Balancing education, helping the community, running a farm, and offering a safe family-oriented space, Gillis Hill Farm has its hands full with an important purpose.
“We’re far removed now from the days of a mule and horse,” said Gillis. “The key to the future is learning how we’ve survived the past and gotten through that, and that’s by adapting and changing and trying to meet the needs of the community, while also remembering what’s important to us.”
Gillis Hill Farm prioritizes advancing where they can to assist others, while also maintaining their values, and giving guests a window into a different world.
“We give a place for families to come and enjoy each other and not to hit their wallets too hard, but a place where they can come and get away from the everyday hustle and bustle of life and think about simpler times, and think about the things that are truly important,” said Gillis. “We do hope to teach people about agriculture and the importance of it, and maybe that can impact their lives, and maybe people won’t get so frustrated when they’re caught behind a slow tractor.”
Gillis Hill Farm works hard to educate the public, represent the agriculture community, and have fun with it along the way. So take a walk off the beaten path, slow down, and enjoy the literal breath of fresh air that is Gillis Hill Farm.
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