Farmers turn authors with history of blacklands

Published 6:32 pm Monday, September 5, 2016

“The Blacklands of Northeastern North Carolina can be stark, daunting, and desolate. But it is also alluring, peaceful, and bountiful.”

Those words start the book “Blacklands Treasure,” a history of more than a million acres of Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula farmland written by those who know the land and the stories that have been passed down with it. Wednesday evening, “Blacklands Treasure” authors Cy Rich Jr., Joe Landino and Steve Barnes will share some of those stories at a North Carolina Estuarium book signing.

The history of the region is rich — nearly as rich as the soil. Those who turned swathes of swamp and wilderness into one of the most prosperous farming regions in the U.S. are the Blacklands pioneers, and include such names as Wilkinson, Roper, Van Staalduinen, Swindell and Laughinghouse, but the idea to compile a history came from Rich.

“What happened was that Cyrus Jr., whose father was involved in the early years, said he had a dream one night that we needed to write a book about the Blacklands,” Landino said.

The dream led to a phone call, which led to swapping stories and unraveling the truth from variations of stories passed down through generations, according to Landino. After a few false starts, Phil McMullan Jr. was commissioned to pull the pieces together. The end result has many parts: it’s part history, part personal memoirs, part picture book and part technical guide to the creation of a region known for its productive agricultural soils.

“We put a lot of personal information in there to make it interesting reading — parts of it, the average reader might want to skip over,” Landino laughed. “One of the main things was that we wanted people who live here to know what it took to get that land as productive as it is.”

It was that sheer will of previous generations of pioneers that led to an economic boon for a region that would not have had many options, according to Landino.

“There’s no telling the number of multimillion-dollar farms there are on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula (today),” Landino said. “The economic impact is huge for the tax base.”

Wednesday’s event starts at 5 p.m. at the Estuarium, 223 E. Water St., Washington. Copies of “Blacklands Treasure” will be available for sale and for signing by the authors.

“It was a lot of fun doing it; we enjoyed working together,” Landino said. “We’re excited about coming down, and hopefully, we’ll have a good crowd.”