‘Century Farms’ span generations
The stone foundation of Fred and Margaret Clark's home was built by hand, without the modern conveniences of machinery or electric power. The stones were quarried on site with the help of a team of horses, then chiseled and squared.
A century later, the Clarks had to replace one of those walls and quickly appreciated the manual labor that went into building their foundation.
"When we had to take the walls out, we used a tractor and a loader," explained Fred Clark. "It's hard to comprehend not using machinery."
The Clarks, along with Charlene Pohl, and Harold Jehle, are the three area residents that recently received the Kansas Farm Bureau's Century Farm Award. The requirements for the award are daunting to most, but not to this year's awardees. Each of their farms met the required 80 acres owned by a family member for at least 100 years.
The winners feel that living on a century old farm has increased their appreciation for both family and hard work.
"The threshing machine used to be a team of horses and the corn was shucked by hand," Charlene Pohl remembers. "The first thing we bought when we moved here was a onerow corn picker."
Pohl enjoys her life on the farm that she used to visit as a child, when her maternal grandparents owned the land.
"I came here every Sunday afternoon," she said. "We'd can corn and other garden products."
Pohl and her husband Orvil moved to the farm, 2 1/4 miles south of Worden, in 1948, 64 years after Mrs. Pohl's grandparents bought it for $3,500. The Pohl's farm has hosted dairy cows, feeder pigs and sheep. Now the land is mainly pasture. Pohl's favorite part of her farm is the cedar windbreaks that she and her husband planted years ago. The improvements and additions to the century old farm are extensive, but Pohl, in a modest tone, points out that, "It's just home."
Harold Jehle enjoys the memories that surround his land.
"Our granary was built in 1927. I can just barely remember my grandfather laying out the string for the perimeter of the building," he said. "I got into the string and boy he popped me one. I never got into string again."
Jehle's grandfather, Michael Young, bought the farm in 1898. Jehle's mother was seven years old then, and after she married, she and her husband purchased it and lived there until the early 1970s, when the Jehle and his wife Wincel took over the ownership. Jehle farmed corn, wheat, milo and soybeans on the land, which is now farmed by the fourth and fifth generation.
Conversations with the winners of this year's Century Farm Award often sound as if they've come straight out of a history book. The century farms watched the birth of electricity and other inhome amenities.
"Electricity brought a lot of change around here. Also, we put in central air," said Pohl. She's kept up with the times; both the modern improvements on the land and the solar panel on her roof are evidence of that.
Jehle remembers the summer of '34, because he spent most of the nights outside due to the terrible heat. "Three of us boys slept out in the yard. We only had one load of hay that summer."
His farm also experienced the grasshopper invasion of 1946. "Grasshoppers ate everything in sight. My grandpa used to say, 'You can look as far as you can see and not even see a tree.'"
Jehle survived those challenging times, but fears for the future of family farms.
"Farms are breaking up into small plots. The family farm is on the way out," he said, adding he's glad he claimed his stake on time.
The Clarks agree that maintaining a family farm is a difficult task. They often question the methods in which their predecessors used to farm their land. The farm's original barn, for instance, is also held up by a stone foundation, and was put together with wooden pins.
"I don't know how they managed it," said Mr. Clark.
He is intrigued by past methods of clearing brush on the hill behind their house. Today, with modern technology and farm machinery, he says he has a hard time keeping it clear. The hilly and rocky terrain that makes up most of the Clark farm is difficult for farming, but perfect for grazing cattle and the chickens that are raised on the enduring pasture.
"We always wonder," Mrs. Clark laughed, "how they dealt with the problems we deal with."
The Clarks are dealing, more than likely better, than their relatives in one area. They like to take their visitors around the hill and show them their five-acre pond. The Clark's land was chosen by the Watershed project, as a prime spot to build a pond. The Watershed project monitors land and then builds ponds to create better conductivity between bodies of water. The Clarks are thankful for the deal they got out of the project. They have a large pond for recreation, light irrigation, and aesthetic enjoyment and they only paid a fraction of what the pond would have cost if they would have built it themselves.
The Clarks, the Jehles and the Pohls live and work upon historic land. They walk on the floors that their relatives walked on. They till the soil that their grandparents and parents tilled, and their livelihood depends on the same land that sustained a century of farmers before them.
Whether attracted to the stone foundations or the mature natural settings, this year's Century Farm Awardees still the hustle and bustle of present day, inviting visitors to relive their own memories. If a closer look is needed, there's an original hitching post in front of the Pohl's house just in case.