Oldest Chamber Business
Harvey Fertilizer & Gas Company has evolved, along with agribusiness, for 152 years
By Mike Danahey
Longest Chamber member business
Harvey Fertilizer & Gas Company President John McNairy oversees a business with deep roots and familial ties to Kinston.
“Lemuel Harvey founded L. Harvey & Son in 1871 in Kinston,” McNairy said. “We are still a family-owned and operated entrepreneurial company with core businesses in fertilizer, seed and chemicals, liquid propane gas, cotton gins, seed cleaning and direct farming.”
McNairy noted that Lemuel Harvey is his wife Leigh’s great-great grandfather. McNairy married into the family and joined the company in 1981.
The organization started as a feed, seed, chemical and fertilizer store supplying the needs of local farmers, McNairy said. Throughout its early history it was involved in many diverse businesses including selling mules, writing various insurance products, farming, apparel, grocery, appliances and running 13 gasoline and fuel businesses.
Around 1947, L. Harvey & Son started the first John Deere dealership in North Carolina, which sold tractors and farm equipment in the eastern part of the state, and later they added two more dealerships.
In 2005, the company merged its three dealerships with several other like-size family owned/operated dealerships to form East Coast Equipment, LLC. In late 2018, East Coast Equipment and Quality Equipment agreed to join together in a merger of equals to form a new single John Deere dealership organization called Quality Equipment, LLC.
“Today, Quality Equipment, LLC has 36 dealerships, making it John Deere’s fourth largest in number of stores in the United States,” McNairy said.
In 1950, Felix Harvey, McNairy’s father-in-law and then president of the company, entered into the liquid propane business. The company now has eight outlets selling propane and providing service work for agribusiness, residential and commercial customers in eastern North Carolina.
The company ownership transitioned fully to Felix Harvey and his sister, Myrtilla Harvey Brody, in 1972. While both are now deceased, ownership remains within the families.
McNairy noted that he and Leigh moved their family from Atlanta to Kinston in 1980, when he joined the company. A year later, he became its president.
The company built its first cotton gin in La Grange in 1991 and went on to build three additional gins. Currently, it operates two gins, including the La Grange one.
In 2008, the company entered into the wheat and soybean seed cleaning business — Cashwell & Jones — and created its first Harvey AP product line and custom seed treatment division.
Throughout the years, McNairy and his wife have been involved with the Kinston community.
McNairy said Leigh has always had a passion for education. She graduated from Granger High School in Kinston, attended Salem College from 1966 to 1968, earned her AB Degree from UNC-CH in 1970 and her MAT Degree from Duke University in 1971.
“After moving back to Kinston in 1980, Leigh became very involved in her home county of Lenoir where she was a trustee on the Lenoir Community College Foundation and served for 12 years on the Board of Education of the Lenoir County Public Schools,” McNairy said. “Leigh and I have also served on several boards at UNC-CH and East Carolina. Our combined love of education and its importance within our community led us back to Lenoir Community College.”
Related to that, C.F. (Felix) Harvey III established a Harvey Scholarship program through the Lenoir Community College Foundation in 1985. Recently, the McNairys made a sizable donation to the college which was directed to its library, the school’s hub.
“Dr. Rusty Hunt and his team have a vision and we believe in their leadership. We are proud to be supporters of LCC,” McNairy said.
Felix Harvey’s daughters, Leigh McNairy and Sunny Burrows, have continued the tradition of honoring the company’s 20-year employees, McNairy said.
“I firmly believe the growth and success of any organization depends largely on its people,” McNairy said. “To date, we have honored 266 full-time employees with 20-plus years of service.”
McNairy said there’s no question that the success of Harvey Fertilizer & Gas Company is the direct result of our loyal and dedicated associates who professionally serve the needs of our loyal customer base.
McNairy has been involved with the local business world, too. He has served on the Kinston Chamber of Commerce board of directors and executive committee. He also served on the board of directors and executive committee of the North Carolina Chamber (then known as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry), including serving as that Chamber’s chairman from 1994 to 1995.
“I believe one of the best ways to share knowledge about your business is by making the right connections. Our local chamber does an outstanding job making these connections and advocating for small businesses, both new and old, in our city and county,” McNairy said. “They host regular networking and volunteer events year-round to highlight our community businesses and their services.”
Agriculture is a tough business, McNairy said, and one very dependent on mother nature and commodity prices.
“Harvey’s has been in the business for 152 years and we have seen the high’s and low’s, but agribusiness is in our blood so we continue to serve our communities,” he said. “Agriculture is rapidly changing but we believe it is the foundation of our society and economy. We must have food to eat and to have food, we must have a farmer.”