Thursday morning, three families were recognized for their legacy and contributions to Pettis County’s largest economic industry: agriculture.
James and Dennis Carter, Roger and Larry Cordes and James and Mary Wilson along with their families were recognized as Pettis County Century Farm Families for 2016.
“The Century Farm program acknowledges the people and places that help define our present day county and communities,” said Brent Carpenter, Agricultural Business Specialist for Pettis County from the University of Missouri Extension. “We enjoy partnering with Farm Bureau and Pettis County officials to host a special event in recognition of Century Farm families.
“Century farms are an important part of our past and present identity — they represent multi-generational grit and they demonstrate shared determination to sustain heritage and the productivity of land that supports all of us,” he added. “They remind us of our values as fellow community members, such as independence, resourcefulness, family and they encourage us to conserve what is important while continuing to build for the future and are a fixture of Pettis County, worthy of special appreciation.”
The award, sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension, the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Missouri Farm Bureau, recognizes farms that have been owned by the same family for more than 100 years and continue to provide an income for the family.
“When you think back to what land prices were 100 years ago and how difficult it was to purchase land at the time, these families are outstanding representatives of our county’s biggest economic industry,” Pettis County Presiding Commissioner David Dick said prior to the start of the recognition. “They have adapted and changed over time and evolved into productive ventures.”
Dick and Missouri Farm Bureau Board of Directors, District 4 and Eastern County Commissioner Brent Hampy are both owners of Century Farms.
“I congratulate you on your lineage of over a century and great history of your family’s farms,” Hampy said. “The Missouri Farm Bureaus celebrates the lineage of farm families with over 100 years of continuous ownership of a farmland tract.
“The ancestors of these families were here to help fund the first county extension agent and began our Pettis County Farm Bureau, with our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, USDA, and the Pettis County Court (Commission). in 1912, which was the first in Missouri,” he added.
The three families honored are united by the land but each has different stories of how they have kept their farms intact.
“Our farm is 255 acres,” Roger Cordes said. “Our grandpa died in 1969 and our grandma died in 1973 and when that happened the farm went to their three children.
“Our mother was insistent that the farm stay in the family and so when my aunt passed I bought her 95 acres and Larry and I own the remaining 160,” he added. “We’re the third generation of our family to own and work the farm and research will tell you that a lot of the time family farms end after three generations.”
Cordes said the family is working to set up a transition for the farm to stay in the family through the children, as they are as intent as their grandmother was that it remains in the family for another 100 years.
Larry Cordes spoke of how their father served in the military but still kept the farm going.
“After he left the service he started working at the cattle barns,” Larry Cordes said. “He milked a ‘rainbow’ of cows all by hand until about 1980, when we started raising beef cattle and row crops.”
James and Mary Wilson have the distinction of having the oldest farm, established in 1884, chosen this year.
“People ask me all the time why I didn’t do this years before and I always tell them I guess it’s because I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” he said with a chuckle. “The farm is 195 acres all together
“We have seven children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” he added. “They don’t live on the farm now but maybe someday …”
Wilson commented, as did the other owners who spoke, that farming was difficult at times but the family members did what they had to to keep the farm in operation.
“My father worked nights at the Missouri Pacific Shops and then he would farm days,” Wilson recalled. “I worked days at Pittsburgh Corning and then would farm nights, but we made it work.”
Dennis and James Carter also know of the work it takes to keep a farm going. Their grandparents bought the original 140 acres of farmland in 1916 at a sheriff’s sale, paying $80 an acre.
“The first thing grandpa did was burn down the old flea-infested house and he built a chicken house and started selling eggs,” Dennis Carter said. “In the ’50s farming was tough, especially the drought of ‘54 when the cows got used to hearing the noise of a chain saw cutting down a tree so that they could eat a few green leaves.
“In order to make a living, mom and dad had an ice route, a coal delivery and sold eggs, milk and cream,” he added. “Then dad worked as a mechanic in town for a while and mother went to the air base to cook in order to keep things going and the bills paid.”
The farm has seen many transformation but the Carter brothers both are grateful for the opportunity farming has provided.
“Farming has always been tough and it takes hard work and good weather to make a living,” Dennis said. “I wish I had known my grandfather and grandmother who made this 100-year event possible, but I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with my father at something he enjoyed.
“I hope that my brother and I have been good stewards of these 198 acres left to us to care for,” he added. “I am glad that my son, Eric, has taken interest and will continue this family farm into the future.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.