Detwiler Farm receives ‘Century Farm’ status
By CRAIG SHIRK
WEST LIBERTY – Detwiler Farm, Upper Valley Pike, recently became the ninth farm in Champaign County and one of 934 in Ohio to be recognized by the state’s Century Farms program.
Administered by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the program pays tribute to farms maintained by a family line for 100 consecutive years or more. With the status, the Detwilers receive a certificate signed by the governor and may display the Century Farms logo at their homestead just north of West Liberty-Salem High School.
Tom Detwiler, co-owner and resident, is grandson to one of the first taskmasters of the farm, Rufus Detwiler, who purchased it in 1904 from the original owners.
The 1,200-acre property was cultivated as early as 1817, according to Detwiler and his wife, Pat. The couple made it their home in the 1960s, maintaining the original fireplaces, wrought iron fence and overall structure of the farm house now almost 200 years old.
“We thought this would be a neat designation,” Mrs. Detwiler said of attaining the Century Farms status. “It’s been such an honor to have it in the family for that many years.”
“It was quite a process,” her husband said. Citing the program’s qualifications, he said they devoted hours of research and scanning of documents to validate the farm’s ties to his lineage.
Sharing the honor is Tom’s brother, John, an equal partner of the business responsible for half the farm’s operations since the 1960s. The homestead has been a family effort, however, and the legacy includes to a large degree all members, including the Detwilers’ three children, six grandchildren, one great-grandchild and many others over four generations.
The 108-year legacy has significant meaning to the Detwilers, highlighting achievements born of a tireless work ethic and of commitment to family.
“It was a wonderful life for raising children because the kids always had chores, always had responsibilities and they could spend time with their dad. They always had access to him,” Mrs. Detwiler said. “They are the light of our lives.”
Despite having jobs removed from the family farm today, Kathy, Andy and Matthew are still integral parts of their father and uncle’s operation and they all live within four miles of the farm. When Andy isn’t traveling the country showing his champion goats and when Matthew isn’t working at Honda, the brothers help run the grain carts and do various tasks in the fields.
The oldest, Kathy, works in West Liberty and also finds time to help with the farm. Meanwhile, the grandchildren are active in many of the same activities their parents enjoyed: band, 4-H, FFA, sports and anything musical. The full-time guys, Tom and John, still run the tractors and combines. Having expanded to a farm on state Route 507 as well, the group stays plenty busy and enjoys every minute.
“(Tom) smiles all the way through his cereal every morning,” his wife said. “Every job to him is fun.”
She claims the best time of year is harvest season.
“How exciting harvest time was, when the kids could ride in the tractors with their dad,” she said, adding the farm has become a central gathering place for her growing family today.
The Detwilers have seated as many as 43 people in their home for Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve made extensive renovations to their roughly 3,000-square-foot home, built in 1817, to make these occasions possible. One such renovation had them fearing the upstairs might fall into the living room, Mrs. Detwiler recalled with a chuckle.
What remains of the home’s original brick was taken from clay found on the property in the early 1800s. In addition, Detwiler’s grandfather built the storage barn in 1913 from trees taken from a section of the farm bordering U.S. Route 68. The property also holds the original hog house and corn crib, both converted to storage areas for the farm’s equipment and for a few toys such as Tom’s antique tractors.
The 1,200-acre farm comprises some woodland but is almost entirely corn and soybeans. It had included a profitable dairy herd until 1988 and supported corn nuts, a specialty produced in Champaign County and parts of California, during the 1990s.
One of the top dairy feeder herds in the nation, Tom and John’s herd sold for a good price, and Tom wasn’t entirely sad to see it go.
“With milking, if you do it yourself, you’re married to it,” he remarked. “It was great having all that free time, seeing the kids’ activities (after the herd was gone).”
“We did everything together,” Mrs. Detwiler added. “When the kids got in 4-H and started showing at the fair, that was a good time. It was a vacation for us.”
Raising corn nuts started in the early 1990s and ended around 1998 when the corn processing plant in Urbana was bought. It proved to be a good money crop, said Mrs. Detwiler.
Regardless of weather, the soil continues to provide strong corn and soybean yields. Even floods and droughts have failed to affect harvests significantly, the Detwilers said.
“What we do have is ours, and it’s good ground,” Mr. Detwiler said.
“I can’t ever say we had a year where we were living hand and mouth or anything like that,” Mrs. Detwiler added.
When Detwiler’s grandfather retired from the farm in the 1930s and moved to West Liberty, his son Howard purchased the property and continued the legacy until he moved to Michigan. Thereafter, Howard’s brother Lawrence, Tom’s father, cash rented the farm until his sons took ownership in the 1960s.
Changes made since then likely would baffle Rufus today.
“I think he’d be amazed,” his grandson said.
In the early 1900s, Rufus and his sons worked the soil with the help of horses. Much of the work comprised hard, manual labor. Today, tractors drive themselves.
“Nothing was too easy back then,” Mr. Detwiler said. “It has been a 100 percent change (from horses to tractors with their own guidance systems) … It would go clear around the world straight because it’s directed by satellite.”
Even the slightest deviation from a straight line triggers an alarm, he explained.
The need for bigger and better equipment spurred design changes in the century-old storage barn. Mr. Detwiler made a bigger door, scaled back the hay loft and installed an I-beam to accommodate the upgrades.
Amid the variables, the Detwilers are assured of one constant: Family and community come first.
“We’re really fortunate to live in a community like this,” Mr. Detwiler said, remembering the outpour of support the family received when their 2 1/2-year-old son, Andy, sustained serious injuries from falling into a grain auger years ago.
“That’s when you really find out who your friends are,” Mrs. Detwiler said.
For the Detwilers, “good ground” is more than soil. It is the foundation, the bond between loved ones achieving common goals, the values passed down from generations and the community that enables it to happen.
Craig Shirk writes for the
Urbana Daily Citizen