Oregon’s rich agricultural history will be celebrated at the Oregon State Fair again this year, when the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program will honor 10 farms and ranches.
Eight will be recognized for having been operated continuously by the same family for 100 years. They will join the ranks of 1,156 others that have received the century award.
Sesquicentennial awards will be presented to the Batchelder family and the Morris family, who have continuously operated their farms for 150 years or more. They join 26 other ranches and farms in Oregon that have received the award in past years.
The awards will be presented at the fair at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 23. Capital Press interviewed two of the families about their farms.
Three Branches (Morris family farm)
Off the road north of Yamhill, Ore., a modern, well kept-home obscures the age of the Morris family farm.
But the history is deep within the furrowed soil that has been plowed and sown for 162 years. Adjacent to the newly built replacement house, a mass of ancient grapevines overlooks the concrete remains of the original farmhouse’s foundation. The grapevines were planted soon after Eliam and Susannah Morris settled on the land in 1852. The plants and a few stone blocks are about all that is left of that original layout, but the family that descends from these early pioneers has roots as deep as the ancient vines.
“I’ve often wondered why they stopped here, of all places,” said Rollie Morris, great-grandson of the original settlers, Eliam and Susannah.
“It’s the small town lifestyle that kept us here,” Ted Morris, Rollie’s brother, responded. “We’re all country bumpkins by heart.”
Rollie and Ted share portions of the 318-acre farm with Ted’s three daughters, Kathy Fox, Cherie Vandehey and Michele Moberg and their husbands.
For around 40 years, Ted and Rollie owned and operated a successful hog farm but have since retired. Now, Mitch Vandehey, Cherie’s husband, farms the majority of all the family’s combined portions.
The 162 years of history on the farm are hardly noticeable to the naked eye, but several details betray the land’s age. A few stools, bowed in the middle from years of weary family members resting their feet, sit unused in the shop where Rollie and Ted used to run their swine operation. The stools were given to Eliam as payment for a long-forgotten service, and each of the Morris sisters has one in her home.
A framed photo of a dilapidated gate hangs in the same shop. It lasted over 100 years as the threshold to the Morris family farmhouse, and was fixed repeatedly out of the desire to stay thrifty.
“That’s the Morris family through and through. If you need to fix something, use bailing wire,” said Joyce Morris, Ted’s wife.
A multitude of crops have rotated in and out of the farm: broccoli, cauliflower, small grains, hops, corn, flax, daffodils and this December the family will plant hazelnut trees.
“They can live for hundreds of years,” said Rich Moberg, Michele’s husband. “They’ll outlast all of us.”
The Morris family looks forward to another generation that will inherit the land and continue to be stewards of the their legacy, but they are unsure what the future holds after that.
“Our kids are excited to carry it on, with them I’m not concerned,” said Michele, “but with the generation after that, who knows?”
Jansen Family farm
That uncertainty is echoed by several of the families whose farms and ranches will receive the century or sesquicentennial awards. According to the USDA, farmers and ranchers are old and getting older. The median age of farmers and ranchers is 58 years, and that age has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. So if the trend continues, who is going to take up the plows and continue to provide our country with food?
“That’s the unanswered question, isn’t it?” said Mike Jansen, “I think some of the next generation would like to have the farm, it just doesn’t have much return on the dollar and it takes a lot of hard work.”
Mike Jansen runs the Jansen family farm, three miles from Forest Grove, Ore. His family is receiving a Century Farm award this year, but the farm itself has been in the family for 137 years.
The Jansen Farm has been passed down through four generations of the family. Mike, who tends the majority of the dairy farm now with his father Pete’s close advice, has a herd of 80 Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Holstein milking cows along with another 80 head of replacement heifers.
Both the Jansen family and the Morris family worry about the future of their respective farms and the distance that has grown between food consumers and producers.
“No one thinks of the farmer when their plate is full,” said Ted Morris.
Mike Jansen believes that over the years farming is less appreciated.
“People don’t understand that you need agriculture to have food. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re talking meat or milk they just don’t put the two together,” Mike Jansen says. “That’s the big thing we’re up against.”
Century Farms and Ranches
• Harmon Farm. Founded 1910 in Wallowa County
• Gastin Ranch. Founded 1907 in Wallowa County
• Fairview Ranch. Founded 1914 in Sherman County
• Jansen Farm. Founded 1877 in Washington County
• Emerson Dell Farm. Founded 1883 in Wasco County
• KilKenny Ranch. Founded 1914 in Morrow County
• Plagmann Farms. Founded 1913 in Linn County
• The Romig Ranch. Founded 1908 in Polk County
• Batchelder Farm. Founded 1858 in Washington County
• Three Branches (Morris family farm). Founded 1852 in Yamhill County