Hartly family farm marks century of commitment

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The Thompson family stand in front of their 105-year old farm in Hartly. Members include Robert, his wife Barbara, Davette and her husband Jonathan, their children Sydney and Sarabeth. Their dog Lobo stands in front. Not pictured are Aaron Thompson, his wife, Melanie, and their daughter, Kayla. (Special to the Delaware State News/Lexi Coon)

HARTLY — In today’s society, most people can’t keep the same phone for more than two years, let alone the same farmland for more than a century. A four-generation family of farmers in Hartly has done just that.

During the Delaware Agriculture Week in January, the Thompson family was honored with the Delaware Century Farm Award from the Department of Agriculture.

“Delaware first started its Century Farm Award program in 1987, and as the name implies, it is to recognize farm families that have had the farm in their possession for at least 100 years and they’ve farmed that same property for the same amount of time,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Austin Short.

The Thompsons completed a detailed application process that researches deeds and family history to prove the farm has stayed within the family for at least 100 years before being honored with a Century Farm plaque and sign.

“Whether it’s 100 or 200 or 300 years, it’s an incredible commitment to keep the farm in the family and keep it a farm despite all of the changes,” said Mr. Short.

While some Century Farms may be just starting to grow, the 140-acre Thompson farm dates back to the early 1900s.

In 1911, Howard Thompson purchased his farmland and began growing wheat, tomatoes and orchard crops along with raising essential livestock such as cows, chickens and pigs. He worked the land until his son, Clark, and daughter-in-law, Hallie, took over during the late 1930s.

“My dad, Clark, started a dairy farm here. Essentially from 1937 to 2003 we milked dairy cows. In the meantime, my mother, Hallie, kept laying hens, about 900. That continued into the sixties,” said Robert C. Thompson, a third-generation farmer.

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The 140-acre Thompson family farm in Hartly was established in 1911. (Special to the Delaware State News/Lexi Coon)

“In 1970, my wife Barbara and I continued with the cows and added grain crops,” said Mr. Thompson.

With the help of Mr. Thompson’s sons, Jonathan and Aaron, the family business has also grown to work on large grain bins and to include a repair and restoration shop for farm machinery.

Their success over the years in generational farming has not come without its own challenges, however.

Clark Thompson dealt with some health problems during his time, which presented its own obstacles in addition to those of everyday life on the farm.

“Had it not been for my mom, we would not be a century farm. That would be one of the biggest challenges,” said Robert Thompson.

And as times change, so does the farming.

“There have been a lot of environmental issues, especially in more recent history,” said Jonathan Thompson.

New challenges in weather and crop production can appear each season and farmers must adapt their businesses to meet both their needs and the community’s.

“Aaron is constantly trying to find new ways to produce the crops and produce a better yield. You know, trying to improve the way we do things,” said Mrs. Thompson.

By keeping up with the constant changes in today’s society and environment, farmers are more able to maintain their livelihood and provide for the public. It’s something that often requires communication amongst those in the agricultural business.

“Farmers in general are trying really hard to be good stewards, but we’re facing a lot of issues. It’s essential we work together, or we won’t get the issues solved,” said Robert Thompson, emphasizing the importance of teamwork both within his family and in the agriculture family.

By working with other farmers in and out of the state, the Thompson family has built an active presence within their community, something they find very rewarding.

“It’s a camaraderie that you might not have with other things,” said Mrs. Thompson of the fellowship of farmers.

“[Agriculture] reaches much further into the local economy than a lot of people understand, including us,” said Robert Thompson.

Many people may think of farmers as single-family operations, but their work impacts a broad range of people.

“The employment benefits that it has, it’s not only on the farm but it’s quite a big range of things,” said Mrs. Thompson, also touching on the benefits farming has for the state. It’s a profession that comes with many responsibilities and obstacles, but is one that the Thompson family is happy to pursue.

Like many of the other families who have received the Century Farm award, the Thompsons are looking to their younger generations to continue their agriculture business.

“Some of the grandchildren are starting to be involved on the farm on the weekends,” said Mrs. Thompson, just as generations before them did.

And as the family will grow, hopefully, so will the farm.

“I know [Robert’s] mom and dad would have wanted to keep it a farm,” said Mrs. Thompson.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lexi Coon is a freelance writer residing in the Camden area.

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