ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — Behind every century farm is a story. Families got to share some of those stories as their farms were recognized as the newest Pennsylvania Century Farms Aug. 15, at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days.
“I know that these stories are sometimes complicated to tell, very emotional to tell because of turning points along the way where you had to make decisions,” said Russell Redding, state agriculture secretary, at the recognition ceremony. “As much as we celebrate the label of century farm, we know behind that there are a lot of decisions that take place.”
Three western Pennsylvania families were recognized: the Oesterlings, from Butler County; the Vogels, from Beaver County; the Livingstons, from Indiana County. The Yeatmans, from Chester County, were also recognized.
To become a century farm, the same family must own the same farm for at least 100 years and a family must live on the farm still. Additionally, the farm must have at least 10 acres of the original holding or gross more than $1,000 annually from the sale of farm products.
The Century and Bicentennial Farm Program is run through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation.
Kate Oesterling purchased a farm in Summit Township, Butler County, on Dec. 1, 1890. The price was $5,000 for 36 acres.
Her great-great nephew, Michael, runs the farm today with his wife, Debbie, and their children. Michael’s grandfather took over the farm in 1934, and his father followed in 1961.
The original barn and farmhouse that were built in 1890 still stand. Debbie Oesterling said they’ve raised a variety of livestock over the year, from dairy cows to pigs.
Now, they have beef cows and meat and dairy goats.
“I’m hoping eventually we’ll reach the bicentennial with our sons,” she said.
State Sen. Elder Vogel Jr. and his wife, Sue, accepted the award for their New Sewickley farm, which has been in the family since 1873.
Daniel Brenner purchased the 100-acre farm that year for $60 an acre. Brenner was a cousin to Lewis Brenner, who was Elder Vogel’s great-grandfather.
Daniel Brenner built a barn on the land in 1874 and a house was completed in 1876. It was a dairy farm until 2016, when Vogel’s father died, Vogel said.
Now, they raise beef cows and grow corn, hay and soybeans there. Vogel’s mother, June, still lives in the old farmhouse.
“I’m the fourth generation on our farm now,” Vogel said. “It just goes back to prove the resiliency of the farm and how much the land does mean to you. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into every farm over the years.”
The family’s distinctive green barn can be seen right next to the Pennsylvania Turnpike at mile marker 23. The Turnpike split the farm when it was built in the 1950s.
Vogel said his father took a trip to Canada to visit some friends and noticed the barns up there were not just the usual white and red seen in the U.S. So he decided they should paint their barn green.
Vogel and his wife, Sue, have been connected for a long time, long before they married. His father took Sue and her brother to buy their first dairy calves for 4-H, Vogel said. Sue’s mom and aunt were their 4-H leaders.
Bob and Darlene Livingston’s farm has been in the family since 1918. That’s when Darlene’s great great uncle, Hugh McConaughey, bought 160 acres in Smicksburg, Indiana County, for $70.83 an acre.
Her grandfather, Clyde McConaughey, took over in 1935, and her father, Clyde Jr., after that.
Darlene Livingston’s grandparents ran a Jersey creamery and imported Holsteins from Canada. Now, they raise pigs, beef cattle and sheep.
When the farm fell on hard times, a good Samaritan gave Clyde Sr. a shoebox with enough money to make a mortgage payment. He never shared the name of the person with anyone, but he did share that story with Darlene, who was his “right-hand man.”
Darlene’s father, Clyde Jr., is in the Pennsylvania Livestock Association Hall of Fame.
Being named a century farm is a tribute to the community, Bob Livingston said.
“This is really a community award, because it takes the support of neighbors and customers over the years,” he said.
Bob Livingston said when they took over the farm, he noticed that everyone around the region seemed to have a “Clyde and Lois” story about his wife’s parents. People would talk about coming to the farm to buy pigs or calves over the years.
When transitioning the farm from generation to generation, Darlene Livingston said children are never too young to be a part of the conversation.
She and her husband took over the farm from her father, when he was 80 years old and they were in their 50s. Because of that, she sees them as a bridge generation to their children, Morgan and Garrett.
“Our kids were 17 and 19 when we asked them if they were interested. We started having farm meetings then, and we included them,” Darlene Livingston said. “They’ve taken on more ownership of the farm because of that.”
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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