Dick Felt is 81 years old and still lives in the house where he grew up. It’s the same house his father was raised in. And before that, his grandfather made it his home.
Felt is one of at least a handful of Dallas County residents whose families can boast that the same family has owned their farm for at least 100 years.
In the case of the Felts, it started with Dick’s grandparents, Louis and Belle Felt, who moved to Dallas County from Chatsworth, Ill., in about 1900 and purchased the 120-acre farm located between Adel and Waukee.
“I always asked Dad why they moved, and he said it was the quality of the land that brought them to Dallas County,” Dick Felt recalls.
Louis and Belle raised a little bit of everything, which was common in the early days of farming. Louis died when Dick’s father, Earl, was a sophomore in high school. Earl quit school to work on the family farm, where they raised hogs and cattle and grew corn, oats and hay.
Dick and his brother grew up on the farm, which Earl turned into a dairy farm in 1928 or 1929 and operated it as such until 1960. By the time the family sold their dairy cows, they were milking 100 cows.
“I thought I got out of jail when I quit milking,” Dick Felt jokes. Dick and his brother still had all of the equipment necessary for cattle, so they began raising cattle on the farm and growing grain.
Dick no longer farms, and his brother has since died. He still owns the land and lives in the homestead, but his son, David Felt, has taken over the farming operations.
Today, the Felt family farm is used to raise cattle and grow crops. They still use many of the original outbuildings and restored the 100-year-old barn, while other buildings were torn down.
“We didn’t want the barn to go,” Dick Felt says.
Felt also owns a 75-acre Century Farm across the road from the Felt family farm that originally belonged to his great-grandparents who came to Dallas County from Lake City. That farm has been in his family for almost 130 years.
Dick’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Benjamin Franklin Jones, who went by B.F. Jones, was a farmer and a pharmacist.
“Why he came to the Waukee area, I really don’t know,” Dick says. “But they sold out (of the pharmacy business) and moved down here.”
The Joneses raised corn, oats, red clover and alfalfa for hay, and had hogs, cattle and chickens on their 160-acre farm.
“In those days, they raised a little bit of everything,” Dick Felt says.
Dick’s grandfather Ed Jones and his wife, Mae, inherited the farm and kept the operation similar. However, Ed Jones ran into some financial hardship as a result of a bad investment and had to sell off about half of the farm. The family retained about 75 acres, which Dick owns today.
Dick’s parents bought the farm from Cecile’s parents, Ed and Mae, and used it as crops to feed his dairy cattle. Dick and his brother then inherited the farm when their parents died.
“I hate to see them not stay in the family if we can do it,” Dick says of the family farms. “But sometimes it’s kind of hard to do.”
State recognizes Century, Heritage farms each year
Each year, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation recognize farms that have remained in the same family for 100 or more years. To be designated a Century Farm, the farm must be owned by the same family for 100 years; a Heritage Farm must be owned by the same family for 150 years.
“This program is a great way to highlight the deep history and strong heritage of agriculture in our state,” says Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture in a news release.
Recipients are recognized each year at the Iowa State Fair.
The Century Farm program began in 1976 as part of the bicentennial celebration in the United States. Since then, more than 17,486 farms nationwide have received the designation. The Heritage Farm program began in 2006, and more than 583 farms has received the designation nationwide.
In 2012, 345 Century Farms and 69 Heritage Farms were recognized, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
Applications are usually due June 1 of every year, and are available on the Department’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov by clicking on the Century Farm or Heritage Farm link under “Hot Topics.”
Family farm makes many transitions through the years
A train trip from Illinois to Dallas County in 1890 landed John Llewellyn on an acreage between Adel and Waukee.
Llewellyn was from Wales and had come to the United States in the 1860s or 1870s to work as a tile layer, where he tiled the ground and drained swamps in Illinois. He returned to Wales and came back to the United States a few years later with his bride-to-be. A train trip to Iowa landed him in Dallas County.
His great-grandson Jim Llewellyn says the story he has heard went something like this: John traveled westward and thought, “Hmmm. This is the place I want to be. Got off the train and bought the land.”
By 1943, John Llewellyn had acquired 365 acres, which the family still owns today. Jim Llewellyn now resides on the half of the farm his parents owned, which is the site of the original homestead. His aunt and uncle live on the other half of the farm.
The land has undergone a transition since John Llewellyn first bought it in 1890. John recorded his crops and livestock in ledgers, which Jim still has today. He had a diversified farming operation growing everything from potatoes, oats and barley to raising hogs.
In the 1950s, the Llewellyn family began to operate a dairy farm. That continued for the next 15 to 20 years, and then the family sold the operation and periodically raised pigs, sheep and cattle. It also was operated as a sod farm, and Jim planted hundreds of walnut trees hoping to cash in on the timber one day. Unfortunately, the value of the wood dropped and those dreams did not come to fruition.
Today, about 60 acres of the site is farmland, and there is no livestock on the farm. Another section is used by the Waukee soccer club.
Jim uses about seven or eight acres on the site for his own project — a gardening business called Overhome Farm. He grows several varieties of peppers and tomatoes, onions, garlic, pumpkins, potatoes, squash, berries, sweet corn and experiments with other things such as the grain quinoa, which he grew this year for the first time. He sells his produce at the Waukee Farmers Market and a roadside “on your honor” stand near the soccer fields. He describes it as a hobby gone bad.
“I love doing it,” Jim says. “It’s a great thing to do, but I’m just not quite big enough (of an operation) to make a living. I think I’m at the point in my experience where I need to make a decision about how far I want to take this. One person can’t do it alone.”
Jim grew up on the family farm, both in the house he resides in today and the tenant house located on his aunt’s side of the farm. No matter which house the family lived in, they referred to the other house as “overhome,” which is how Jim came up with the name for his business.
“It’s everything to me,” Jim says of the family farm. “We’re kind of the last of the few who can say something to those regards.”
Jim says the future of the Llewellyn Century Farm is up in the air after he is gone. His kids are growing up and moving on.
Des Moines woman retains ownership of Adel family farm
LaNelle Glass of Des Moines received her Century Farm designation for her family’s farm located in rural Adel in 2011.
Glass’ great-grandfather, Meshach Couch, brought his family to Iowa from Indiana in 1855. There were no railroads yet in Iowa at the time, so the family crossed the Mississippi River by steam ferry and the Des Moines River by pontoon bridge.
Two of Couch’s sons were given the job of driving the cattle and sheep from Indiana to Iowa, while the family’s belongings were loaded in one wagon. The boys walked all the way, Glass says. The family reached Adel on Nov. 25, 1855.
Couch homesteaded 145 acres southwest of Adel and built a log cabin on the site in 1856. He later purchased more property north of the site. The land was passed on to his son, Harvey, and later Glass’ mother, Susie Couch Stacey. Glass inherited 53 acres from her mother in the 1970s.
Glass grew up in a home on the site from the time she was 6 years old until she graduated high school and left home. The house she grew up in still remains on the portion of the family’s land that is owned by her brother.
Glass currently rents out the acreage for farming. She says she plans to keep the land in the family and will pass it on to her five children.
“To me, I feel very lucky, and it’s a piece of property that I cherish,” Glass says. “I’m proud that I have it, and it was left by my relatives.”