West M. Manwell and his wife, Pearl, put down roots on some farmland in Jones in 1905, and they began creating a farming legacy continued today by their great-great-grandson. Five generations later, Landon Manwell carries on the tradition by farming the same land.
Manwell Farms is one of more than 16,000 farms recognized by the Oklahoma Centennial Farm & Ranch Program. This program, co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, recognizes families who have continuously occupied their land and carried out farming or ranching operations for at least 100 years.
Landon is extremely connected with the Manwell farm history. He was very close with his grandparents, Robert and Rada Manwell, who ran the farm when he was growing up. They were well-respected, active citizens who served on various boards, volunteered for community projects, and put their hearts into the land – all while raising four children.
“They worked the farm together,” Landon says. “He worked the land and took care of the equipment while she managed the books, took care of the house and raised the kids. They made a great team.”
Two of those children, Tracy and Todd (Landon’s father), stayed in the area and bought their own land to farm, and the other two children moved out of state. Tracy and Todd helped their parents on the farm, but as Robert and Rada got older, health issues arose. They needed more help. Landon moved in and became his grandfather’s caretaker.
“I spent a lot of time with them, talking about the homestead and farming and how they hoped their legacy would be for the farm to be run by a Manwell,” Landon says.
Passion for Land and Legacy
Concern about the family legacy is a common thread for Centennial Farm families, says Shea Otely, coordinator for the Centennial Farm & Ranch Program, which is co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“This program recognizes the sheer tenacity of these families and what they have accomplished,” Otely says. “In many cases, they were immigrants coming to a new land and learning to grow crops and survive the challenges of weather. All of these families share a passion for family, the family home and their family histories.”
Landon shared his grandparents’ vision for the future of the homestead and was able to bring that dream to life by purchasing the homestead from his family. His brother Rylan also farms a portion of the land he leases from the family business.
“I started farming this as my own land in 2013,” Landon says. “It’s worked really well. I do a lot of what my family has always done, but I’ve also had to adapt and diversify. We’ve picked up everything from growing new crops to implementing new practices.”
See more: Down on the Oklahoma Family Farm
One diversification has been the addition of a hay rebaling business. Rolling hay into big round bales is an inexpensive way to get the crop out of the field during limited harvesting windows; however, those large rolls can be difficult to move and store. Manwell Farms uses special equipment to unroll the bales and then rebale the hay into manageable squares they can sell for a profit. Landon grows some of this hay himself, and he purchases additional big rolls from other farmers.
The farm changes from year to year in terms of crops, but in the past five years, they have grown corn, soybeans, wheat, canola, milo, alfalfa, turfgrass, Bermuda grass and hay. They also run stockers on the wheat pastures and have a cow-calf operation. Running stockers means feeding weaned calves up to a packing weight of 750 to 800 pounds.
Landon hopes his two children, Mylah and Kallen, will be interested in working the farm someday.
“I understand now more than ever why my grandparents told me there were times when they wanted their children and grandchildren to leave the farm, get an education and choose another lifestyle,” Landon says. “Farming can be a lot of stress, but it’s rewarding, too. It’s an honorable job and it’s honest work. You can’t cheat or lie to Mother Nature.”