Family farms honored

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Two long time family farms from the area were recognized at the 2017 Iowa State Fair, a program that acknowledges the deep roots of Iowa agriculture and the bond that exists between Iowa families and the land they farm.

Barbara B. Owen and family received the distinction of Century Farm for their farm, while sisters Debra DeVore, Shari Ellis and Katha Carter were awarded the status of Heritage Farm for their farm.

“The Century and Heritage Farm awards ceremony is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. The program is run out of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Farm Bureau.

To qualify, a family must have owned at least 40 acres for 100 years or more for a Century Farm, or 150 years or more for a Heritage Farm.

“It is a tremendous celebration of the families who have cared for the land and raised the crops and livestock that helped build our state and feed the world,” said Northey.

“To own a farm for 100 or 150 years is a testament to the values of land stewardship, hard work, patience, dedication and perseverance that are found in Iowa’s farm families,” he added.

This year 354 Century Farms and 119 Heritage Farms were recognized in Iowa. One of those families is quite well known to the West Liberty area, the Owen Family.

Barbara Owen might be one of the oldest owners of a Century Farm at 95 years of age. She was the wife of Richard Owen who, along with his brother Don, farmed the land for many years until their passing.

The farm was originally purchased in 1911 by Frank and Sadie Owen, passed to his son Raymond (Rooster) and wife Alice Owen, and then passed to their two sons, Don and Richard (Dick) Owen.

Over the last 106 years, the 160 acres of land, located in Cedar County, have been used to harvest beans, corn, wheat and alfalfa. The family has also raised cattle, hogs, chickens, dairy cows and sheep over that time.

“We’re just really proud that we have been in a position to hold on to it,” said Phyllis Sterba. “Not many can say that they have something like this these days. I’m very proud and very happy for our mom.”

Phyllis Sterba and her sisters, Diane Maynard and Annette Wehrle, grew up on the farm just north of West Liberty. The daughters of Barbara and Dick, they enjoyed their childhood out on the farm.

“Mom, my sisters and I weren't 'hands on' with the farm work, but contributed in other ways,” says Sterba. “All the thanks really goes to our great-grandfather, grandfather, dad, uncle, and (currently) our two cousins Bob and Jeff Owen, who continue to carry the torch.”

Phyllis Sterba recalls working in the garden, helping Mom with the workers' lunch on baling day and being a part of “putting corn in the freezer day” each summer.

“It was fun showing our city cousins a sow giving birth,” says Sterba. “We helped take care of baby chicks and later gathered eggs. I tried to drive a Farmall tractor, but that didn't end very well.”

Barbara Owen spent many years living on the farm before ultimately moving into West Liberty. Actually, the entire award was kept a secret in order to surprise her.

She was both speechless and pleased to learn about her land becoming a Century Farm. She was also given an official framed certificate.

“I think it’s a point of pride that the Owen family has worked that land for over a hundred years,” says Bob Owen. “To keep it in the family, its been a natural progression knowing our great-grandparents purchased it that long ago.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has partnered with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation since 1976 to recognize families that have owned and worked a farm for 100 years or more.

Including this year’s recipients, more than 19,000 farms from across the state have been recognized in the program, including many from West Liberty, Atalissa and Nichols.

The Heritage Farm program was started in 2006, on the 30th anniversary of the Century Farm program and more than 1,000 farms have been recognized.

The 2017 Century and Heritage Farms Program ceremony was held at the Iowa State Fair in the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion on Thursday, Aug. 17.

Craig Hill, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and Joe Heinrich, Vice President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, joined Northey to recognize all award recipients.

Among those being awarded was Dotson Farm, LLC. With an Atalissa address in Cedar County, the 140 acre farm is owned by sisters Debra DeVore, Shari Ellis and Katha Carter.

They received the distinction of a Heritage Farm, signifying that the farm has been in the family for over 150 years. Their farm was originally purchased in 1867, and ultimately passed to them from their father Glenn Crees Dotson and his wife Viola.

All three of the girls grew up on the farm. Back then the farm specialized in cows, chickens and pigs. They had a gigantic barn and a grand garden.

“I really enjoyed growing up on the farm, and so did my sisters,” says Deb DeVore.

“Back then we just didn’t know any better. We had a couple ponies and a horse, we helped mom in the garden. That’s all we knew, we didn’t have the electronics we have nowadays.”

They had their fair share of chores, like any farm kids. They gathered eggs, fed the pigs and had to take care of the animals. She recalls taking Pepsi and water to her father while he was working.

There father Glenn passed away 20 years ago while their mother Viola recently passed away last year, but not before being honored as an 80 year attendee of the Muscatine County Fair.

Deb DeVore lives on the land now; however, the house which was built in 1911, is currently going through reconstruction. Shari lives in Iowa City and Katha lives in Arkansas.

While they’re still the owners, they get cash rent from other farmers. It’s not like back in the day, but they’re happy to have kept the farm in the family for such a long time.

“I think it’s kind of cool to earn this award,” says DeVore. “My mom would tell me stories about my dad when they got married in their twenties, how he would work that farm.”

Her father paid $14,000 for 100 acres of the farm from his parents, he would eventually inherit the remaining 40 acres upon the passing of his mother.

Finally, the Filiae, LLC, Farm was awarded a Heritage Award. With an Atalissa address the recipients included Mary C. Beveridge, Martha J. Beveridge and Anne Beveridge Hartley.

“The Iowa State Fair is a celebration of Iowa and Iowa agriculture, so it’s a great place to recognize the Century Farm and Heritage Farm recipients,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.
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