Agriculture has long been a cherished part of Indiana’s history, and one way the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) honors the stewards of that tradition is through the biannual recognition of Hoosier Homesteads.
Since the awards program began in 1976, the ISDA has recognized more than 5,000 Hoosier Homesteads – those farms that have remained in the same family for 100, 150 or 200 years – including the Muncie, Ind., farm of seventh-generation farmers Larry and Vickie Mitchell.
History Has Its Places
The Mitchells’ beef cattle and hay farm has been in Larry Mitchell’s family since 1836, when his paternal ancestor and community founder, Jacob Miller, settled the land.
“The original farm started at 550 acres and increased over the years to 1,100 acres,” Vickie Mitchell says, “and included the big house, a doctor’s office and blacksmith. The house we live in was inherited by Maryann Miller who married George Null. They built our house, and her daughter Harriet married Hiram Main. They had a daughter who married Ethel Mitchell and had Larry’s father Bernell. Larry Mitchell inherited it from Bernell, and now it has been Mitchell Farms for three generations.”
Hoosier Homestead Program Coordinator DyNishia Miller says honoring the commitment to the state’s agriculture heritage by families like the Mitchells is why the Hoosier Homestead Award was established.
“The award signifies to farmers that we appreciate the hard work that Hoosier families have put in. It’s a big feat to have a farm for 50 years, let alone 100 or 200 years. So we want to honor these families for their service to Indiana,” Miller says.
Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future
Even though technological advances have changed some of the tools and methods, Mitchell says her family is committed to rural preservation and continuing to use the farm in the manner it was meant to be used.
“One thing we like to do is instead of fertilizing hay fields, we reseed them with red clover and grass seed – something my father-in-law would do by hand when my husband was a child. It’s very expensive to buy spray fertilizer, and it’s not as good for the environment. Killbuck Creek surrounds our property, and we’re interested in preserving the integrity of the creek, which dumps into the White River. We don’t want to add to the chemical runoff,” Mitchell says. “So even though we’ve gone forward with some things, we’ve gone back to the old ways for others, because those are the better ways.”
Mitchell says she and her husband intend for the farm to stay in their family for many more generations to come, which is another reason they have invested in sustainable practices, such as using biofuels to power their personal car and tractor.
“We have to be good stewards of the earth, and our job is to provide and sustain the farm for production to feed the world,” she says. “We’re very invested in sustainability, using renewable products and keeping costs down to increase the profitability of the farm. We hope to continue through our retirement, and that our kids will take over. We’re hoping that one of them will be the eighth generation to live here in our house.”
Following the Leaders
Like Larry Mitchell, Claude Boehm was born and raised on his Spencer County farm. Boehm grew up working the farm his father purchased in 1912, and after a stint in the military, Boehm returned to take over the 212-acre beef cattle and grain farm. His wife Maryetta says the land holds a lot of memories for Claude – memories they hope to pass down to their kids and grandkids.
Miller says encouraging younger generations to follow in their elders’ footsteps is an important byproduct of the Hoosier Homestead Award. It’s definitely motivated the Mitchell family.
“We’ve gotten the 150-year Hoosier Homestead Award, and if we can make it to age 87, we’ll receive the 200-year award,” Mitchell says.
For more information on the Hoosier Homestead Program, visit in.gov/isda.