The county’s agricultural heritage has contributed to the development and growth of the local food processing industry, which includes 98,800,000 chickens processed annually and $17.5 million in country ham sales. Wineries, distilleries and breweries have recently entered the food processing industry. In 2015, the sale of botanicals joined the local industry.
Moderate elevations and proximity to the Yadkin River and the mineral-rich soil of the Brushy Mountains allow a variety of grapes to thrive in this area. Wilkes County is part of two federally approved American Viticulture Areas, the Yadkin Valley AVA and the Swan Creek AVA, and is home to five wineries, which contribute to North Carolina’s $1.97 billion wine and grape industry.
Once known as the “Moonshine Capital of the World,” Wilkes County is now home to three legal distilleries, Call Family Distillers, Copper Barrel Distillery and American Alcohollery. Craft beer brewing is also making its way into the county at TwoBoros Brewery.
Suncrest Farms, which also operates under the name Junior Johnson Country Hams, was formed in April of 1994. It is locally owned and operated. Suncrest is estimated to generate $10 million in annual revenues, and employs approximately 75 people. The operation includes two plants, a freezer facility, and an additional warehouse all totaling 101,640 square feet. Suncrest Farms’ wholesale customers include Biscuitville, Food Lion, Giants, Ingles, Piggly Wiggly, Ruth Salads, Star Foods, W. Lee Flowers, Walmart Supercenter, and Publix.
Established in 1973 by Hobert Gambill, the third generation of Gambills take great pride in continuing their grandfather’s name and tradition. Hobert started curing ham and selling it from the trunk of his car in 1971. In 1973 he opened the first plant, now the headquarters, in North Wilkesboro. With hard work and pride in his product, he successfully expanded with a 30,000-square-foot plant in Mulberry and a 50,000-square-foot curing facility in Wilkesboro. Hobe’s has gone from selling about 2,000 pounds initially to about 10 million pounds of ham per year now. It’s one of the largest country ham producers in the nation, serving customers and supplying fast food restaurants and supermarkets in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. Hobes Country Hams is estimated to generate $7.5 million in annual revenues.
Today, Tyson Foods employs more than 2,700 team members at its chicken processing cook plant in Wilkesboro. However, poultry farming and processing is a part of Wilkes County’s history. Holly Farms was founded in Wilkesboro in 1958. Tyson bought the company and its operations in 1989. With a $14 million-plus expansion in 2016, Tyson now processes 98,800,000 chickens at the plant annually.
Herbal Ingenuity is a buyer and wholesale supplier of botanicals, which are plants or plant parts – mostly gathered in the wild – used for their flavor, fragrance and medicinal or therapeutic properties. Herbal Ingenuity sells in bulk to manufacturers of various products, including dietary supplements, energy beverages, cosmetics and pet food, as well as culinary, homeopathic, equine, tobacco and wholesale distributors. It also sells to distillers, brewers and other companies.