Even in a region speckled with rural subdivisions, farmer Eric Kesler holds his ground. That includes the same 140 acres of land his five-greats-ago grandfather homesteaded in 1806.
“We’ve had this for so long and never sold one acre off of it,” Kesler says. “No one can believe we’ve never sold any off for housing.”
Eric and his wife, Karen, live and work full-time on the family farm north of New Carlisle. They live in Pike Township’s first house, a circa-1820 farmhouse built with materials from the farm itself. They grow corn, soybeans and hay, and tend to 50 head of Black Angus beef cattle. They also harvest timber to benefit forest management and lease hunting rights on the farm, which has grown to 1,400 acres.
As of mid-2015, 84 family farms in Ohio had applied for and received Bicentennial Farm status through the Ohio Department of Agriculture. A farm reaching its 200th anniversary in a single family lineage proves uncommon. The fact that the descendant owners still farm for a living proves even rarer.
“When you think about the farm’s history, it is overwhelming,” says Karen Kesler, who traced the farm’s family ancestry back to 1734. “I think this is pretty incredible that this farm has remained in the family all these years. No one has split it up. My husband is the survivor of this family farm.”
Rooted In Farming
The Kesler Farms lineage traces through Eric’s late mother, Marianna Black Kesler. The Black family first grew small grains, such as oats and barley, on the farm. The family also raised various species of livestock. Eric tells of a story when mice nearly bankrupted the farm in early years when the rodents ate the stored corn seed to plant the following season.
Yet, the farm prevailed. It continued to progress through wars and economic hardships. The farm gained indoor plumbing and electricity. And it replaced horses with tractors. Eric retells farm stories about thrashing grain with up to 20 neighbors and the huge meals the wives prepared.
Today, the Keslers adopt conservation practices in the spirit of farm preservation. They practice no-till on their fields to deter soil erosion. They added buffer strips along the creeks to filter water. The family also adopted modern farm methods, including variable-rate fertilizer and seeding. This practice uses global-positioning satellites to guide precise placement of fertilizer and seed based on need.
“We’re getting good yields on land that my granddad would be happy to get 60 to 70 bushels per acre of corn,” Eric says. “We’re getting 200 bushels per acre on a regular basis.”
Through it all, the Keslers never forget their roots. In fact, the history surrounds them. They still use the bank barn, built in the 1830s from materials on the farm. In the house, an old bed built from the farm’s cherry trees sits in the guest room. In that bed, the farm’s founding grandfather, Samuel Black, died and the next generation, John Black, was born.
The Keslers display two old oil lamps from the 1800s. They keep family Bibles from 1787 and 1834. They even restored an old sleigh they found in the corn crib. The sleigh, dated between 1830 and 1850, sits in the house at Christmas time to hold presents.
The couple says the farm and the livelihood it provides represent gifts themselves. Eric’s grandfather, Herbert J. Black, inspired Eric and taught him to farm.
“I’m so thankful that my granddad didn’t sell off part of the farm,” he says. “I think he would be proud of what we have done with it.”