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Century Farms are precious, but getting there requires foresightPosted Friday, November 16, 2012, at 12:59 PM
Every year at the annual Saline County Recognition and Celebration I feel like I am unwrapping early Christmas presents.
My presents come in the form of Century Farms -- and the stories they represent.
In Saline County, we have a rich tradition of farms staying in the same family for 100 years or more. To date we have more than 150 recognized Century Farms, the most of any county in the state. I've written about more than 40 of them since 2006.
Just like real presents, I am excited and intrigued when I find out what new families I will have a chance to interview each year. Of all the stories I write, it's no secret, the Century Farm stories are my favorites.
No matter what I think I know about Saline County history and farming, I always learn something new. Many owners tell me their story "isn't as interesting" as the other stories I've written. But they are always wrong. No matter what I've heard or written before, every Century Farm family has a new and exciting story to tell.
I've written about the Civil War and stood in a home that about 150 years ago was set on fire by bushwhackers on their way through the Grand Pass bottoms.
At another farm, I learned about a German-born grandfather who loved his newly adopted country so much he let his grandson eat all the ice cream and shoot off all the fireworks he could each Fourth of July.
The same grandfather used to tell his grandson never to sell the farm near Blackburn. He told him the topsoil was 20-feet deep and would always be able to grow anything they ever needed to eat -- except oranges and grapefruit.
I wrote about a courageous woman who traveled to Saline County in an 1850s wagon train. Marrying at age 16, she and her new husband purchased a farm near Marshall, using money she inherited.
But because of the laws at the time, her name was nowhere on the deed. When her new husband left a few years later, she used money, determination and lawyers to eventually get half of the farm.
She married again, this time to a Confederate Army captain. While he was home on leave, a Union neighbor called him outside and shot him. She couldn't have been 30-years-old when she married her third husband and had six children.
Those descendants have kept the farm in the family for all these years. Of course, it couldn't have been done without her tenacity.
All the stories I've written since 2006 have something in common. They all are about farms that remained in the same family through floods, drought, depression and world wars.
No matter the family or the circumstances, strong determination, dedication and a deep abiding love of the land was needed to keep it in the family for so long.
But through the years, some of those farms that had remained in the family so long have been sold out of their familes. Some of those sales have happened in just the seven years I've been writing about Century Farms.
Some were sold because of financial reasons, others were sold because there were no interested heirs. Others were sold because of family disputes.
While it is wonderful to honor our Century Farms, I think the celebration can also serve as a cautionary tale to other families.
In the 1850s, because of one woman's determination -- and her use of the legal system -- several family members still own the land she fought for so diligently.
Almost every year at the Women in Agriculture meeting, local probate judge Hugh Harvey talks about estate planning. While his message may change slightly as laws change, he always stresses communication and advance planning as two of the more important elements in passing on assets.
It's important for all the family members to have an open dialogue with each other, as well as with accountants, lawyers and estate planners. It's also important to recheck and reword the plan as time passes.
The farms that have made it through 100 years or more didn't make it by happenstance. The families didn't just bury their heads and hope it all worked out.
Keeping a farm in the family, is much like running a a successful farm. It takes hard work, planning, communication and the knowledge to seek out advice and solutions from others.
My motive for wanting to keep Century Farms in the same family for many more decades to come?
That's simple. I want to unwrap more presents.
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