Century Farms – a Heritage Worth Preserving

by Carolyn L. Barkley

In the past, the United States was primarily an agrarian nation. Farm-life was a shared experience for an overwhelming percentage of the population, with the family farm a valued possession. Today, the family farm is disappearing as modern economic pressures make it less and less possible for a few individuals to sustain their livelihoods through agriculture.

In order to celebrate those individuals who continue to remain on the family farm, many states have established “century farm” programs. A century farm, sometimes referred to as a centennial farm, is a “farm or ranch in the United States or Canada that has been officially recognized by a regional program documenting the farm has been continuously owned by a single family for 100 years or more.”1 (For those remaining on the land for 150 years, there are Heritage/Sesquicentennial Farm programs, with Bicentennial Farm programs for 200 years.)

There is no single location at which to research century farms. Each state or region has established its own program with differing requirements, beginning as early as 1937 with the New York State Agricultural Society’s program. A good place to begin research, however, is Wikipedia’s table that lists state century farm programs. However, you will want to be careful with the provided links as they either can lead to other Wikipedia pages, or may not lead to pages by the indicated name. They will require further research to locate information on a specific recognition program. Wikipedia’s table lists state, name of the program, year in which founded, minimum number of acres required, and the department having oversight over the program. The list of century farm programs listed in the Wikipedia table includes those in Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska (which designates them as Pioneer Farms), Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Tennessee Century Farm Program, administered by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, provides a good example of how to become designated as a century farm. (Note: the Wikipedia link to this agency only leads to a Wikipedia page about the Center.) Originally established by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture in 1975, the program now includes at least one farm in all ninety-five counties in the state. Of the 1,493 certified farms, 146 are 200 years old, 633 are 150 years old, and 714 are over 100 years old.2 Qualifying farms must have remained in the same family continuously for at least 100 years, include at least ten acres of the original owner’s land, produce at least $1000 in annual farm income, and have at least one owner who is a resident of Tennessee. Individuals may apply for a century farm designation – at no cost. As a genealogist you will be well prepared to complete the application (available to download as a Word document), which requires “the founder’s name and a founding date which you must be able to prove by deed, census record, family papers, or other legal documentation. Beginning with the founder, you will be asked to list the generations of ownership of the farm through the generations to the present day owner. The application also has space for you to recount such information as crops, family stories, involvement in agricultural, civic and community activities and organizations, and the like. The application must be notarized and also signed by the county agent or county historian.”3 Once the application has been processed, the applicant will receive a certificate, and the farm’s information is placed in the appropriate county’s file to become part of a permanent archival collection. In addition, century farm owners receive a yellow metal sign, designating the farm as a century farm. Tennessee century farms can be searched by county. For example, Polk County has eight registered century farms. The description of each farm is brief, but can be rich in genealogical information and may include a photograph. In addition to century farms, the Tennessee program also includes Pioneer Century Farms (settled before 1796) and African-American Century Farms (founded by emancipated slaves and their children).

Recently, as I began research for this article, I talked to a neighbor with Iowa roots and confirmed that her family farm had been designated a century farm ca. 1968. (Iowa farms may be designated as century farms if they demonstrate “consecutive ownership within the same family for 100 years or more consisting of at least 40 acres of the original holding of Iowa farmland. The present owner must be related to a person who owned the land 100 years ago.”4) Folkert and Margaret (Harms) Kromminga purchased 120 acres in Castle Grove, Jones County, Iowa, in 1868 when they were married. The farm’s location is described as Sections 32 and 33 of Castle Grove T86N R4W. This information led me to take a quick look in related historical records. A preliminary review of available census records established additional information about this family and its life on an Iowa farm.

Folkert, born in Germany, and Margaret, born in Wisconsin of German parents, first appeared as a married couple in the 1870 federal census for Castle Grove, Jones County, Iowa.5 For newlyweds, they were well-established with real estate valued at $3,000 and personal property valued at $580. The 1880 federal census for Castle Grove narrows Folkert’s place of birth to Hanover.6 The agricultural census is often unused by researchers, but is an extremely important resource which can provide a wealth of detail about rural farm life in America. The 1880 agricultural census for the Kromminga farm7 provides a detailed illustration of the business end of the family’s farm, reporting that it included 115 improved acres, forty-five acres in permanent meadow or pasture, and ten aces in woodland or forest. The farm had increased in value to $4,000, with farm implements or machinery valued at $200, and livestock at $100; one hundred dollars had been invested in building improvement or repair during 1879. The farm employed hired labor for thirty-six weeks in 1879, paying $225 in farm wages. There were twenty-eight mown acres and thirty-five unmown, with thirty-five acres in hay. There were seven horses, twelve milk cows, and seventeen “meat cattle;” eight calves had been dropped, and seven “meat cattle” had been sold alive and one sold slaughtered during the preceding year. Five hundred pounds of butter had been produced (or sent to be produced) in 1879, and there were eight-one swine, and 100 barnyard chickens who produced 700 dozen eggs in 1879. The farm devoted sixty acres to Indian corn (yielding 2,500 bushels); ten acres in oats (300 bushels); 1 acre in Irish potatoes (75 bushels); ten cords of wood were cut with a value of $40.00. The 1885 Iowa state census8 and the 1900 federal census for Castle Grove9 listed Folkert (born July 1838); his wife, Margaret (born June 1851 in Wisconsin); son, Udo (born July 1870); daughter Mary (born February 1874); daughter Lena (born 1876 and not listed in the 1900 census, so either living elsewhere, married, or died between 1885 and 1900); and son Edward, born December 1877. By 1910 all of the children have left home with the exception of Mary, then aged 34.10 By 1920, Folkert had died, and Margaret was enumerated as head of household, living with her daughter, Mary, then aged 45, and a grandson, Raymond Kromminga, aged 19. Living next door is her son, Edward, and his family.11 A family story states that Margaret was a single mother in 1900 (although the census would place the date between 1910 and 1920) and that she ran the farm “for years” until “my grandfather was an adult and then took it over.”12 The 1920 census would imply that Edward had taken over running the farm by the time of that enumeration. Edward Kromminga appears in the Castle Grove censuses for both 1930 and 1940 censuses. The latter provides a link to a map showing the location of the farm.13 My quick look for marriage and death records was unsuccessful, but the spelling and indexing issues involved with both “Folkert” and “Kromminga” requires more research time than was available in the course of writing this article. I was disappointed when, after locating a pdf copy of An Inventory of the Iowa Century Farm Records in the Iowa Century Farms Collection (1837-1976), part of the Special Collections Department at the Iowa State University Library, I could find no entries for farms in Jones County. Family archives also provide additional information. Present day family members remember that the family had a difficult time holding on to the farm during the Depression and among the family archives is a letter written to the Federal Land Bank, pleading with the latter to wait for the farm payment until the family was able to get livestock ready to sell. Land records, diaries and farm record information in state libraries and historical societies will also provide additional anecdotal information.

While farming is no longer a common experience for most Americans, it is heart-warming to realize that there are still individuals living and working on farms that have been in their families for at least 100 years, if not more. The preservation of this heritage is important and it is satisfying to know that there are multiple agencies celebrating the agriculture history of this country. I think back to this summer’s cross country trip, part of which included a drive across parts of Iowa. The open fields for agricultural crops and livestock grazing were dotted with farms, punctuated by a clump of trees around the house. Many of these farms may have been a part of the landscape for 100 years or more, an enduring legacy of our agricultural past.


1 “Century Farm,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_Farm : accessed 23 October 2012).

2 Tennessee Century Farms: the Land, the People, the Legacy (http://www.tncenturyfarms.org : accessed 24 October 2012).

3 Ibid.

4 Iowa Department of Agriculture, “Century Farms Program: Taking Pride in Our Rural Heritage” (http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/century/centuryEligibility.asp : accessed 24 October 2012).

5 1870 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove, p. 16B (stamped), dwelling 50, family 53, F. Crenninger [sic]; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication M593, roll 401.

6 1880 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove Township, enumeration district (ED) 324, p. 288 (stamped), dwelling 56, family 58, F. Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 348.

7 1880 U.S.  census, Jones County, Iowa, agricultural census, p. 6B, line 6, F. Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T1156, roll 26.

8 “Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), entry for Folkert Kromminga, 1885, Castle Grove; citing 1885 Iowa census microfilm IA1885, roll 212.

9 1900 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove, enumeration district (ED) 50, p. 3B, dwelling 38, family 38, Folkert Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 440.

10 1910 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove, enumeration district (ED) 56, p. 12 (stamped), dwelling 60, family 60, Folkert Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 409.

11 1920 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove, enumeration district 63, p. 5B, dwelling 100, family 101, Margaret Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 495.

12 Email from Cindy Coy to Carolyn L. Barkley, 16 October 2012.

13 1940 U.S. census, Jones County, Iowa, population place, Castle Grove, enumeration district (ED) 53-2, p. 1A, family 10, Ed L. Kromminga; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 October 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, roll 1172.

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