Barn Mural In Old Fort Pays Tribute to Immigrant Farmworkers

Jan 6, 2020

A two-story mural depicting a migrant farm worker with an armful of leafy produce is splashed across the side of a packing barn in Old Fort. 

The creators of the massive art display say it’s part of an effort to honor those who are the very foundation of Appalachia’s agricultural economy. 

Driving down a windy two-lane country road, the surrounding landscape looks like a postcard. A low lying field sprawls out in the valley. Farmhouses dot the surrounding hills. Then as you turn a curve, the pastoral scene is electrified by an explosion of neon colors. 

“It’s this beautiful, vibrant mural in the middle of rural America. It’s a pretty powerful statement piece,” Danielle Hutchison co-owner of Beacon Village Farm, where the barn is situated, said.

She and her husband and co-owner Mikey bought the property five years ago. Families who’ve lived here for generations call this area Crooked Creek Valley. 

Mikey and Danielle Hutchison own Beacon Village Farm, where the barn is located. They say they wanted to show appreciation to their seasonal workers from Guatemala, who have been helping with their harvest for the past five years.
Credit Cass Herrington / BPR News

“Around here, it’s common to have a barn quilt,” Mikey Hutchison said. “But this, this speaks more to the modern, sort of American barn quilt. Because this is the reality.”

A barn quilt is common site in Appalachia and other rural parts of the country. It’s a square painted with a geometric pattern, often a star, that looks like a quilt square. Farm owners often hang one above the barn entrance as a sort of family crest. 

The reality, he says, is that America’s rural economy is dependent on immigrants. Statistics on the farmworkers vary, but it’s estimated that foreign-born workers account for 80-percent of the agricultural workforce. That’s the message the artist Edwin David Sepulveda is hoping to drive home. 

“A lot of the people who work in the States are Latinos," Sepulveda said. "We want to honor that part of the process. And the people who’s behind that work.” 

He’s an internationally-known street artist, known by his graffiti tag, Don Rimx. He currently lives in Brooklyn. 

“We’re losing this connection with food. If you ask somebody random where you get your food, they're going to tell you they get it from the supermarket. Food doesn’t come from the supermarket," he said. "How we can bring that a little bit closer to us and for the next generation, to keep that relationship between us and the food?" 

The main focus of the mural is a larger-than-life worker, but over his shoulder, there are several smaller figures seated on what looks like a border fence. The fence is spray painted on the barn’s garage doors -- so when the doors raise up, the border seems to disappear. 

"Every time he opens the door, he opens the border. So that was cool, how to figure out something like that," Don Rimx said. 

It’s a striking political message to be making in this area, that leans conservative. 

“Food is political. Agriculture is political,” Loren Cardeli, founder of A Growing Culture, said. 

The organization works with small farmers around the world. He’s a graduate of Warren Wilson College and helped bring in Don Rimx for the mural. 

"It’s important to recognize the value and the contribution that immigrants play in our food system and know how rural economies are dependent on this population and demographic," Cardeli said. "We need to recognize them, value them, and support them, because otherwise our food system would collapse." 

Cardeli says the mural in Old Fort is the first of several he has planned for the new year. He says even though they’ll be on barns and grain silos in different parts of the country, the goal is to connect them to tell a broader story about the nation’s food system. 

The Hutchisons say the reception has been mostly positive. They’ll often see people pull off on the side of the road to take it all in. 

“It was eye-opening because the majority of the people in this area probably do vote Republican and did vote for Trump," Danielle Hutchison said. "But at the same time, they’re so dependent on migrant labor.”  

The farmers say it’s like planting a seed. They hope conversations continue to grow from it.