DOVER, Del. — The Welch family has tilled the soil near Felton for more than 150 years.
In 1854, the Welch family bought 165 acres of land near Felton for $540 — the princely price of just over $3 per acre. That’s the same year that a young, unknown politician named Abraham Lincoln was writing his first political speech.
The Welch family was one of four families honored Nov. 13 as Century Farmers. That means the land has been continuously farmed for at least a century by the same family. The four new farms bring Delaware’s Century Farm total to 125.
To qualify for the honor, at least 10 acres of the original parcel must remain, or the farm must produce at least $10,000 per year in agricultural sales.
The latest round of honorees includes the farm where long-time Delaware legislator, the late Sen. Thurman Adams, was born.
“We hope that all of our young farmers will continue to thrive and become century farms,” said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Austin Short. “These awards are a shining example of the hard work and long days put in by so many generations of farmers on farms that are still active and working.”
The ceremony at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village in Dover was an interesting juxtaposition of the young and the not so young. The four Century Farm families were honored, as were 10 new members of Delaware’s Young Farmer Program, some of them as young as 22 years old.
Both programs help to preserve farmland in Delaware.
Delaware Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee said that when he was born in 1951, Delaware had an estimated 900,000 acres of farmland. By the time he graduated from college in 1973, it had shrunk to 640,000 acres.
The figure now stands at 500,000 acres, but Kee told the audience the state has managed to preserve 22 percent of its farmland, a total of 111,000 acres.
Kee said there are three ways to preserve farmland in Delaware. Two of them are the Century Farm and Young Farmer programs. The third is a very active program that purchases farmland development rights, a program that has enjoyed wide support in Delaware.
“Agriculture is strong because of our past and because of our present,” he said.
Beatrice Adams Shockley said she was proud the Adams farm was named a Century Farm.
“When I was growing up, we had 60 to 100 acres of peaches and we shipped carloads every day to Boston and Pittsburgh,” she remembered.
Her job as a young girl was to stamp the packing lids for those peaches with the type and size of the peaches.
Before peach season began in spring, she said she would bundle asparagus for the farm.
The families recognized include:
The Adams Family (Brent McCabe Adams Jr.), which owns a 211-acre farm near Greenwood. The original 90-acre parcel was purchased in the 1860s. The farm now produces soybeans, corn, wheat and barley, and previously included vegetables, peaches, poultry and other livestock.
The Welch Family (Glenn and Paul Welch) which owns a 38-acre farm near Felton. The original 165-acre parcel is believed to have been purchased in 1854 for $540. The farm now produces corn, soybeans and chickens, and previously included sweet potatoes as well as a dairy operation.
The Cannon Family (James H. and Patricia Cannon) which owns an 89-acre farm near Greenwood, which has been in the family since 1879. The original 92-acre parcel was purchased for $800. The farm now produces corn, soybeans and wheat, and previously produced pumpkins, gladiolas, ducks, horses, chickens and turkeys.
The Gray/Oliphant Family (Irene Gray and Diane Oliphant) which owns a 20-acre farm near Georgetown. The original 50-acre farm was purchased in 1913 for $2,530. The farm now produces beef cattle, corn and soybeans, and previously included peppers, cucumbers, chickens, pigs and harness horses.