Bonus Content

Season 2, Episode 13

Larry’s Tree Redux

Travels With Larry Smith — A Behind-The-Scenes Prequel

Return to Episode: Larry’s Tree Redux

Donna Sanders headshot and byline.

Sometimes a “Behind The Scenes” can take a very different turn. In this case it was a trip to Newland, NC. You see, this is where Larry Smith, Christmas tree farmer, lives. You met Larry in 2018 during our RFD-TV Christmas Special Larry’s Tree – A Journey to the Whitehouse, which will be rereleased around the world on multiple Networks this Christmas (more news to come). And you have seen him many times in other episodes. But you have never heard these tales of mountains, moonshiners and bluegrass music told outside of this part of the world.

First let me give you my unofficial opinion of Larry. When I first met Larry years ago, long after he and Chip had become friends, he asked me, “What do you think of me?” My answer was simple: “You are a hoot.” At the end of that first visit he asked me the same question – my answer: “Still a hoot.”

And that’s still my answer.

Larry Smith at the White house

Larry Smith (L) at the White House

Where The Food Comes From returned to Newland, NC to film “Larry’s Tree Redux” S2, E13 (which airs for the first time Oct. 21), beginning on August 9, but I will tell you more about that in a different article.

First Chip and I went up to Newland on August 5 to spend some private time with Larry and his family. You see he has also become a good friend of ours since we filmed that Christmas special years ago. What we did not know was we were in for five days of craziness. Knowing Larry, I really don’t know why that would surprise me.

After an 11- hour drive we just wanted to rest. But Larry had a different idea and invited a bluegrass band Boone & Church over to his house for a private concert, actually a rehearsal for their upcoming FFA contest appearance but we couldn’t tell a difference. The band is made up of five young men ages 14 – 19, and one adult who keeps it all together. They are playing the music of their forefathers.

Welcome sign for Where The Food Comes From
Bluegrass band Boone & Church playing.

Let me tell you – they were unbelievable! It was amazing to hear the sound that came out of their instruments. Naturally, there was the traditional bluegrass lineup of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, bass and guitars.

What surprised me most was the bass. I was expecting to see this 14-year-old young man toting a huge instrument. Instead it looked like an electric guitar (third person from the left in the previous picture). In a nod to modern times bluegrass bands can now feature an amplified bass.

My 2-year-old grandson had pink eye after we got back. And it was one of my videos of Boone & Church that helped his parents get his eye drops in — he would lay still and listen! I thought that was kind of funny. Sorry, once again another digression.

After a couple of hours the rehearsal was over. Great as it was, thank goodness it was finally time to go to sleep. As I was drifting off I thought, “What did Larry have in store for us the next day?” Rest assured you will find out.

The next day was wet and raining. So what exactly was the plan? Larry had arranged a farm tour. Yes, you heard me right a farm tour. Given that we visit so many farms I found this to be quite ironic. But off we went!

Chip & Larry boarded a tour bus, I was lucky and got to ride behind in a SUV with Larry’s girlfriend. Our first stop took us to Smith Family Farms. I know, the last name does sound familiar – it is Larry’s Aunt Bonita’s farm.

Larry's Aunt Bonita on her farm.
Bee's on flowers at Aunt Bonita's farm.

Aunt Bonita’s farm has your token animals, but more importantly she grows tons of fruit. She makes the most awesome preserves and condiments, but her cakes and breads are beyond compare. Don’t tell her, but I have her Mountain Carrot Cake recipe which you can find in the Where The Food Comes From Cookbook.

The following picture is a bit weird – two bees on a hydrangea plant. When Chip and Larry looked at this they teased me about taking a picture of two bees doing the deed – you get my drift. Actually, the bees were more likely to be taking pollen off of one another to help pollinate the gorgeous flowers. Shooo, this was a big relief because I was kind of embarrassed.

Jar of Aunt Bonita's Preserves

Aunt Bonita's Preserves

Time to get back on the bus or in the SUV. Our next stop took us to Lynn’s Smith, Larry’s brother’s farm. Talk about keeping it all in the family. Merlyn Farms is another beautiful Christmas tree farm. But what interested me was a rock on top of a hill. Naturally I had to climb the hill to see – please don’t laugh – if there was a face in the rock. I know kind of weird, but stranger things have happened. Okay so there was no face, but it was beautiful just the same.

After I managed to walk down the hill — it was slippery because of the rain — I was told the scenery on the opposite side of the rock was incredible. Well…I totally missed that and was not about to climb the hill again.

Big rock formation in the distance at top of the hill.
Big rock formation at the top.

As you can see some people in the tour group decided to climb the hill.  I would imagine not an easy task for all, but worth it. Please note the piece of machinery on the right, this is used to bind and bale the Christmas trees for transport. With Chip in on the act, Larry and Lynn demonstrated how this is done. This was fascinating, but I do hope they wear ear plugs to drown out the noise when they harvest the rest of the Christmas trees.

Christmas tree farm tour group.

On with the tour. Skye Farm’s was my absolute favorite. The farm was filled with butterflies, flowers, and herbs. I was amazed at how gorgeous everything was even with all the clouds in the sky. I can’t describe the beauty of this farm, but I will share some of my favorite pictures and one short video.

Close-up of a beautiful butterfly.
Sunflowers in garden.

After a day of threatening clouds gathering, the skies decided to open up. Talk about raining buckets. And barrels. And anything other thing you can think of to describe a lot of rain. We went to a mountain church community center to let everybody wait it out. But the rain continued and the fourth stop on the farm tour was cancelled. I can’t say anyone really minded because the next stop was a late and amazing lunch.

Did I mention — and I might not have, because this is where things start to get fuzzy — when I was running out of the building back to the SUV I hit my head hard — very very hard — on the bus mirror? Secretly I put myself on a concussion watch. What I did not know was Larry’s girlfriend and Chip did, too.

Lunch was at the Beech Mountain Community Center, which is actually an utterly amazing century old elementary school. Having a fierce headache from hitting my head this was a bit of a blur. Lunch was prepared by a wonderful group of women who put out a spread comparable to any buffet I have ever seen! Only difference being it tasted a lot better. Apparently, this is something done on a regular basis. Sadly, I have no pictures but Chip had one. Chip also had the benefit of growing up in areas like this where a community meal prepared by the elder ladies was something to look forward to — for him, it was a homecoming.

Wonderful ladies of the Beech Mountain Community Center

I have never experienced anything like this before. I was totally mind blown. My question became, “Who would continue this great tradition?” Chip said, “Not to worry – there is always someone who steps up — I remember 40 years ago sitting around community centers exactly like this hearing people ask the same question.” Good to know.

The ladies had a raffle. They were raffling off some cool preserves and other country paraphernalia. Chip won Aunt Bonita’s Sour Cream Lemon Pound Cake. It was incredible. I did try to get this recipe, but apparently this one is a real secret. We enjoyed it for the next several days, including the WTFCF crew once they arrived. Chip continued to insist the raffle was rigged. May be, but none of us cared.

At this point you would think the day would be over. But remember we were with Larry so no such luck.

Larry and Chip joined Larry’s girlfriend and me in the SUV. Time for a crazy joy ride. Larry drove around those mountains so fast my heart was in my stomach; this was probably made worse because of my pounding headache – remember I hit my head on the bus mirror. I said to myself, “Oh lord where is he taking us now?” Turned out we were going up another mountain.

Beautiful from the top of Larry's mountain.
Beautiful from the top of Larry's mountain.

Okay, not a big deal right? But, this mountain was special. It was part of one of Larry’s farms. He asked us if we were ready for a small hike. My initial thought was “You have got to be kidding!” The ground was wet, remember the buckets of rain that came down earlier in the day, and that meant now I could slip in the mud over the roots walking up a hill. Triple UGH! Personally, I don’t think Chip was thrilled either.

Turns out it was so worth it. The scenery was beautiful. See the rock sticking out? It overlooked a valley – totally breath taking.

I got a little too adventurous taking my pictures and walked a bit too far out to the edge of the rock. Chip panicked. He grabbed onto a branch, grabbed me and pulled me in. But, I still got some great pictures. Just look at how far the house is down in the valley. I really liked being above the clouds looking down. By the way going down the mountain was a lot easier than going up.

All of this in one day! What would the next day bring?

Chapel in Newland, NC
Inside the chapel in Newland, NC

All in all, this turned out to be a rather calm day- thank goodness, I don’t know how much more excitement I could handle. We spent the majority of it driving around looking at more beautiful scenery and visiting some old churches and chapels.

But there was one more surprise. Remember Boone & Church from Friday night? They were doing another rehearsal at the local community center, with some of the area’s other amazing bluegrass musicians invited to join in (They even asked Chip to play — it’s not his style of music but he plowed right in as best he could and actually chimed in some pretty impressive background harmonies). I can’t tell you enough about how fabulous they are. Chip put a video out on social media and from what I understand – I don’t really get involved with social media – they have gotten a lot of likes. [Note From Chip: Something like 10,000 views — see it here!]


I really don’t know how to introduce you to the next video. Let’s just say Chip started a can-can line. Pretty funny and awesome at the same time. If you listen closely you can hear Boone & Church.

Hold on to your hats. We have finally hit our last day with Larry

If you have made it this far, my promise to you is the official “Behind The Scenes” article will be much shorter.

So what did the last day bring? More riding around and more adventures. You would think by now we had done it all. Well, you are wrong.

We rode on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is actually a tourist attraction. The Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the Appalachian Mountains. You can see Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi – I do love spelling that word. Its elevation is an astounding 6,684 feet. While visiting my son in Ashville, NC I actually hiked to the top of that mountain. Believe it or not it was actually easier than hiking up Larry’s mountain.

Beautiful view looking over the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Donna and Son at Mt. Mitchell.

Another attraction is Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon. We did not stop to see it — I mean, I wanted to, but Larry had a different plan.

View of Linville Gorge off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

View of Linville Gorge off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tree by pond.

Beautiful tree and pond on moonshiner's farm.

Okay, writing this part is going to be tricky. We visited the “Grand Master of Farming.” This was obvious because his property is so beautiful.

But this is the part that really surprised me. The “Grand Master of Farming” — who grows the most amazing vegetables you have ever seen or tasted — is also a moonshiner. An actual moonshiner. WOW, I have never met a moonshiner. Sorry, no more pictures for obvious reasons.

This gentleman has been a moonshiner for 45 years. I guess he has the recipe down pat. It started to rain and we were invited to sit on the front porch, which to me looked like the front porch of a shack, kind of exactly what you would picture as a moonshiner’s shack on a pond in the mountains. Chip, Larry, and I were offered some libations but we refused. Better that way because driving or even riding in those mountains was a hazard to my health.

We got the run down on how he became a moonshiner, which was very interesting in itself. What was even more funny was a story he told about growing pumpkins. Please note, the below picture is of Larry’s son Wally’s truck, loaded with pumpkins fresh from the farm — we helped pick some up.

It goes something like this. Larry’s father and the moonshiner’s father always had a contest to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin. Well according to our moonshiner friend, one year Larry’s father outgrew his father by a lot. The reason, again according to the moonshiner’s accusation: Larry’s father dissolved Viagra and injected it in the roots of his pumpkins.

Truck filled with pumpkins.
Larry and Chip with mountains in the background.

The way he told the story was absolutely hysterical. Thank goodness I was sitting in a rocking chair with arms on the front porch of that shack. I laughed so hard I would have fallen off the chair. Larry and Chip found found this to be really really funny — not the story, me almost falling off my chair. I guess I don’t laugh that much.

To my surprise we were invited into the shack. It took about an hour or conversation — he apparently decided, given the company we kept, that we were alright, so he reached back with a key, popped the lock and said, “Anybody want a drink?” Inside is where the action happens. There was a large wine barrel and a still with a spout on it, just like you see on TV, copper barrel and pipes and the whole nine yards. Well the barrel was filled with fermenting peach moonshine. Amazingly, the peaches actually came from a grower we know in Georgia. He insisted Chip taste it and he did. I don’t know how he kept a straight face. The stuff looked awful.

Then came the moment of truth. They wanted me to taste the finished product. I said no because there were no cups, which I thought was my out. Well Larry took care of that problem. He went to his SUV and poured out the water in my styrofoam cup. Now I was in play.

The moonshine was poured into my cup. I was trapped and had no choice to taste it. I took a little sip and thought I was going to die. This stuff was 98% proof! Chip wished he had thought of taking a picture — actually he said later he wished he thought he could have taken a video without getting shot. Apparently the look on my face was priceless. Secretly, I wish he had. It would have been great for this article. [Chip says: “It looked like a literal cartoon! Smoke coming out her ears, eyes rolling around, the whole bit. The only reason you can’t see it is because I was not willing to risk having any more holes in my body than I absolutely need.”]

There were other things to see and places to visit. But I think I will stop here. After all there is still a “Behind The Scenes” article to come. Stay tuned!

Oh yeah. The featured image is of Larry on his Chick-fill-a cow. Leave it to Larry.