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When landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted came to Asheville to assess George Vanderbilt’s first land purchases, he found the forests cleared of old growth and the earth worn from unsustainable farming practices. In order to restore this land, which was not suitable for the extensive parks Vanderbilt envisioned, Olmsted advised undertaking scientific forestry—a first for America, though the practice existed in Europe. He recommended raising livestock as the key to achieving this goal, for the sake of the much-needed manure. Though this pursuit was for practical reasons, Olmsted correctly predicted that Vanderbilt would come to enjoy this agricultural work of the estate.

Over the years, Biltmore’s agricultural operations, centered in the farm village which is today Antler Hill Village, would become a model for cutting-edge scientific farming. Advances made there were reported on at a national scale. The estate’s dairy farms in particular were widely recognized as a premier dairy operation in the southeast through the late 20th century.

 

Cattle grazing by the Main Dairy Barn, today the Winery, with worker residences in the distance. 1900.

 

“Why should you undertake farming on any large scale? The only reason that I can see is that to a rapid improvement of the Estate as a forestral country seat you need to have at command a great deal more manure than you can economically obtain except by a certain kind of farming. Adopting this as the real motive of what you shall do, incidentally you will have the pleasure of raising and keeping as much fine stock of all kinds as you choose.”

—Frederick Law Olmsted to George Vanderbilt, July 12, 1889

 

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