Meet Three Generations of the Barkley's Mill Crew

March 17, 2017

Barkley's Mill-Farm Crew-Bass & Waldrup-Heirloom Corn-Stone Ground GritsCharles Bass knows Southern Cross Farm like nobody else around. And for good reason: He has roamed these hills and pastures nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for many decades. Though Charles has held other jobs, and is a master tradesman, much of his life has been spent on the land and on Southern Cross Farm where Barkley’s Mill is located.

Charles eschews the “town” life of nearby Asheville, and rarely does he make an appearance there. When shown a photograph of Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville, he expressed surprise at the mature trees in the photo, where there were none the last time he was there, some many decades ago.

Even at the age of 75, he’d rather be out camping or hiking in the woods on Southern Cross Farm than doing most anything else. Charles can tell you about the medicinal and edible values of native plants on the farm. He knows where things are on the farm, and how they work, and he’s passed this wisdom on to his family, grandson Dean Waldrup chief among them.

Nowhere they'd rather be

Dean sought out his grandfather and his farm acumen. “Since I was 5 or so, I could listen out the window to hear Papaw start up an engine, and know where to find him.” Like his grandpa, there’s nowhere Dean Waldrup would rather be than on the farm, and, at an early age, he would race out of the house to locate his grandfather’s whereabouts to get in on the tractor action and “go to work with him.”

Dean came to work on the farm full-time in 2012. A few years later, Dean’s father, Robin Waldrup, joined him to work at Barkley’s Mill on Southern Cross Farm, as did another son and half-brother to Dean, Justin Waldrup. The Waldrups are among some of the talented artisans who make the Barkley’s Mill operation run, helping produce the tastiest, highest-quality Stone Ground Heirloom Grits possible.

The Bass-Waldrup clan has a connection to the farm that goes way back. Charles has lived on the farm much of his life, first in one house and then in another. The family honors the acreage and the growing process in a way that people don’t much, anymore.

“My favorite part of the land is the 'backside,' because it feels untouched and secluded. You feel alone, like the world melted away,” said Justin Waldrup. Robin Waldrup prefers the ridgeline because of its viewsheds of the Western North Carolina mountains. Dean likes the old buildings, and is fascinated by the beauty, symmetry, and technical capabilities of the mill, even when it is not running.

Mountain men by many standards, these men are smart, eloquent, and hard-working. All express a wish that more people could know how to grow and cook their own food, and that more old barns in the area be preserved.

"We work together, give and take"

Charles Bass and the Waldrup “boys” each possess skills that dovetail together to accomplish the tasks that need to be done. Dean credits Justin with the ability to fix or build about anything, and says Justin’s special talent is visualizing “a project’s steps and phases from beginning to end.” Dean said his father, Robin, possesses much the same talent.

Robin does a little bit of everything on the farm, and he likes the milling season the best. “When the mill is turning, especially with the water…I don’t know how to describe it…but it’s powerful, and the smell is wonderful. When you get a handful of ground corn, you think, ‘We made this.’ ”

The boys nod their heads in agreement about the reverent way Robin describes the mill and the creation of old-fashioned stone-ground grits. They agree.

Though Dean is the youngest, he is a leader amongst the group. His good nature and humility make it work. “Everyone around here listens with an open mind, and we work together, give and take. In my mind, they all have just as much pull as I do. They have more experience, so their opinion is going to go a lot further than mine at times,” said Dean.

In February, close to milling time, the three generations usually work together with the rest of the crew, as it’s all hands on deck. Grandfather, son-in-law, the two sons, the Barkleys, and others sort corn in the corn crib “all hemmed in together,” as described by Robin, “and we have some good discussions,” reportedly lively and interesting and punctuated by many laughs.

Barkley's Mill-Hand Selected-Heirloom Corn-Stone Ground Grits