Century Farm families honored

DOVER — When John C. Carmean purchased land in Millsboro in 1919, machinery to help tend farmland was still out of reach for many farmers who, instead, had to use horses, wagons and other helping hands to get the job done.

Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States; Thomas Marshall was his vice president. The governor of Delaware at the time was John G. Townsend Jr., who would see major reforms begin to create shifts in the state, such as prohibition and women’s suffrage.

The Spanish flu had wiped out 675,000 Americans in the two years before Mr. Carmean purchased his land for about $27 an acre. To put that in perspective, brand new cars cost, on average, about $400 and homes cost about $5,000 with the average household bringing in about $1,500 per year in income.

As the turn of the century neared, Mr. Carmean ignored the chaos happening outside of Millsboro, and purchased that land which would remain in his family and become a legacy, according to Delaware’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture E. Austin Short, who introduced the Carmean family to a crowd Wednesday afternoon as Century Farm Award recipients.

The designation, now honoring 148 farms throughout Delaware as of Wednesday, was established in 1987 to celebrate “farming families who have owned and farmed their land for at least 100 years,” according to the department.

To earn the award, those farms must include at least 10 acres of the original parcel or gross more than $10,000 annually in agricultural sales.

The owners also must be able to prove their lineage to the department, which will work with families to help them with that process.

The result is a ceremony with local elected officials as the department announces new awardees each year. Families also receive a Pewter plate, Century Farm sign to put on display, tributes from the Delaware Senate and House of Representatives and a certificate. The department also honors Century Farms with plaques hanging on the department walls.

“This is one of my favorite events of the year as we get to recognize the families who persevered through not just one farming year which can be enough, but 100 years,” Mr. Short said.

Over the past 100 years, farmers have seen droughts and tax concerns and dealt with difficult transitions as they pass their farms from generation to generation, he said, calling Century Farms “quite an accomplishment and well worth the celebration.”

Delaware’s Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse said farming has become increasingly difficult over the years, and keeping a farm in the family for a century is “a tremendous accomplishment.”
Honoring Century Farms is just one way Delaware can support its homegrown farming families like the Carmeans who continue to farm the land their ancestors provided for them one hundred years ago, officials said.

Their farm, which spans about 50 acres, primarily grows corn, soybean and wheat now, although they also have a history farming strawberries and poultry.
Four other families were honored Wednesday with Century Farm Awards.

The Warren Carlson family farm in Felton, which produces corn, wheat, barley and soybeans, has been in the family since at least 1876 — that’s the earliest documentation the state of Delaware could obtain. According to Mr. Short, the family had to purchase the land in 1876 after a family member died because it had no deed and, thus, no proof of ownership. It might be possible, he added, to trace the land to Delaware’s proprietor William Penn in the late 1600s to early 1700s.

The Conaway family of Georgetown was honored, as well. Their multi-generational farm was purchased by their ancestors in 1894 and has since thrived by producing corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, broiler chickens and watermelons.

In Seaford, Lin-Lo Farms, Inc. owned by Truitt family members, was honored as a Century Farm. Harvey Truitt purchased about 140 acres nearly two centuries ago, far surpassing the 100-year requirement of the award. The farm has since grown to more than 400 acres and has seen a plethora of farm crops and animals on its land like corn, wheat, soybeans, hay, chickens, cows, hogs, asparagus and strawberries.

Reading from the tribute offered to the family by the House of Representatives, Rep. Danny Short said, “Agriculture is the most helpful, most useful and the most noble employment of man, and I’ll add woman, in our society today.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn added, “199 years. You didn’t just make it. . . We’ve got some very, very old farms in our state. To have an old farm, to keep working at it, there’s something to be said for the farmers we have here in Delaware.”

The Deputy Webb family, with a 34-acre farm in Ellendale, was the last farm to be recognized Wednesday afternoon as several generations of family members approached the front of the room to accept their award.
“Obviously, we are thrilled,” Ashley Roberts, a Webb family descendant, said Wednesday after the ceremony. “It means a lot to be able to keep the farm in the family and be honored in this way.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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