This annual event recognizes the stewards of Western North Carolina agribusiness sector and honors the visionaries and leaders of the agriculture industry. At a time when Western North Carolina is seeking new methods of sustainability, WNC Communities is proud to recognize Gwyn Brantley Price for his significant contributions to one of the state’s most important sources of revenue.
Gwyn Brantley Price was born in 1900 on his family’s farm in Ashe County. At the age of eight, his mother passed and he was raised by his grandparents. He grew up milking cows, working horses, mules and oxen on Rich Hill Farms, a farm that would span six generations of farming.
After attending Trinity College (now Duke University) for a year, he transferred to Emory and Henry College in Virginia and graduated in 1924. That same year, he went back home and served as principal at Jefferson School for 16 years, while managing the family farm.
He was a pioneer dairyman, the first to secure pure-bred Guernsey heifers and a bull for the 160 acre family farm. His dairy was a Grade A Dairy that bottled milk by hand in a time of no electricity, when standards were high to achieve such a grade.
In 1938, he served on the Agriculture Adjustment Administration and witnessed the need to support the growth in Ashe County through the availability of electricity and telephone service. He knew the value that electricity would have in Ashe County and across the region because agriculture was big business and secured the wellbeing of many family farms.
In spite of opposition and challenges, Price forged ahead with his vision of establishing electric and telephone cooperatives. Virginia Roberts, Price’s daughter said, “The need for electricity was great on the farm as it would support the livelihood and earning power of the family to increase production in less time with less labor.” Electricity made it possible for automatic milking machines, walk-in refrigerators, running water, and hay to be fan dried. Farmers were invited to his farm for demonstrations of how electricity would be beneficial to farming operations.
After spending four decades helping to organize electric and telephone cooperatives, it was only appropriate that Gwyn Brantley Price became known as the “father” of North Carolina’s cooperative movement. In addition to advancing economic prosperity and increasing business opportunities for rural, northwest North Carolina, Gwyn Brantley Price was appointed by nine different governors as chairman of the State Rural Electrification Authority (REA) for 32 years. When he began his work with REA in 1941, only one-fourth of NC farms had electricity. By 1954, 97 percent would have electricity. His success had a significant impact on farm production and the quality of life for citizens in a very rural region of the state.
Price believed in progressing agriculture through best practices, so he partnered with State College (now known as NC State University Cooperative Extension) for research and test plots on his farm to give local farmers educational opportunities to learn about the best farming practices based on university research at the time.
He was the founding director of Blue Ridge Electric and SkyLine Telephone cooperatives, president of Blue Ridge Cold Storage Cooperative, founding member of the Yadkin Valley Dairy Co-op, and public director of FCX Service. The Beaver Creek Substation is dedicated to Price and he was a cooperative participant in the oral history program at the Smithsonian.
“Gwyn Brantley Price worked tirelessly on behalf of the people in North Carolina,” said Linda Lamp, executive director of WNC Communities. “We all owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude for bringing electricity and telephone to rural communities and farms.”
Price’s grandson, West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price, said he is proud of the recognition for his grandfather.
“It was a great honor to see granddaddy inducted even after 20 years of his passing,” said Price. “He was a kind, gentleman who was highly respected in North Carolina.”
WNC Communities is honored to award stellar leaders in agriculture with a plaque on the prestigious WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame Wall located in the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research & Extension Center in Mills River.
Virginia Roberts and Joe Price stand next to the plaque honoring their father, Gwyn Brantley Price, as an inductee into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame.