Ohio’s founding farm families contribute much to the state’s history and legacy, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is pleased to recognize these special families through its Historic Family Farms program.
The program continues to expand as it adds family farms to its list of three designations: Century Farms, which are 100 to 149 years old; Sesquicentennial Farms, ranging from 150 to 199 years; and Bicentennial Farms, 200 years and onward.
Among the farms that have reached the special milestones are operations owned by Gary and Mary Wilson in Hancock County and Ron and Nancy Ratliff of Ross County.
To get an idea of what life was like on their farm in the past, all Gary and Mary Wilson have to do is go to their filing cabinet. That’s where they can find pages upon pages of Gary Wilson’s great-grandfather’s farm records dating from 1893 to 1928. He was the fourth generation owner of the farm that was purchased in 1834 and deeded a year later. The records he kept were immaculate.
“I still have all their farm records,” says Gary Wilson, seventh-generation owner who acquired the farm in 1981. “Oh my, is that interesting, because life just jumps off those pages. They have the entire year of expenses on half a page. That’s just to show they didn’t buy much of anything. They made it, grew it or didn’t have it.”
He adds, “They never allowed the expenses to be more than income. It’s amazing to me what they were able to do with seemingly having very little.”
Times have changed, of course. Gary’s great-grandfather operated what could be called a diversified farm – selling butter, hogs, cattle and sheep – “a little bit of everything,” Wilson says. His grandfather raised hogs, and his father focused on poultry.
The couple’s son, Mitch, now lives on the property. He’s a full-time electrical engineer, but the farm still generates income from sheep, goats and cattle.
Gary is particularly proud of the barn his great- grandfather built in 1905 that is still in use today, primarily for the livestock. In fact, it is part of the Hancock Historical Museum Historic Barn Tour that Gary coordinated not long after he retired in 2011. He was the county’s agricultural extension agent for more than 33 years.
“There are a lot of old barns out here with an unbelievable amount of history,” Gary says. “I started the tour in my own neighborhood, adding my barn and maybe five others within a mile or two. We had 700 people on a one-day tour. It’s inspired new interest and energy in preserving these barns.”
Continuing the Tradition
Through records and family stories that have been passed down, Ron and Nancy Ratliff know a good bit about the history of their Ratliff Family Farms, which was founded in 1862 by Nancy’s great-grandparents. With a son and a grandson set to carry forward, the Ratliffs’ family farm tradition will live on.
“Our son, Lamar, is now primarily running the operation,” says Ron, who began farming the 110 acres in 1964 and has watched the operation grow tremendously since. Ron and Nancy acquired the farm in 2001 after Nancy’s mother passed away.
“Our grandson, Grant, is interested in farming, and he wants to continue that tradition. We’re very pleased about that,” Ron says.
Though the farm once had cattle and hogs, it now strictly grows grain, primarily corn and soybeans. With the latest technology and favorable rainfalls, Ron says the farm has been blessed with good harvest. They’ve produced corn yields that were higher per acre than the state average, getting around 200 bushels per acre in the last three years.
“We’re trying to reach that next plateau of going from 200 bushels to the 250 level,” Ron says. “That’s our next goal.”