A recent invitation to the Wilson County Fair Century Farm Luncheon brought back the memory of an old story about my Uncle Sid’s visit with a government man out on his farm. That visit wasn’t as important as recognizing the farms in Wilson County that have been around for over 100 years, but it sure did cause the government man, I understand, to consider changing his line of work. Wilson County has one of the largest numbers of Century Farms in the state. Each year they celebrate that accomplishment at their outstanding county fair with a special luncheon. I look forward to this event each year because it does recognize the farming family unit, which makes up 98 percent of today’s farms located across this country.
The story is told that on the farm where my Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie live, a young man drove up in front of their house in one of those white, federally owned cars with official license plates on the back. Uncle Sid was sitting on the front porch enjoying an afternoon break from working in the garden out back of the house. The old man had seen the car earlier, down at the country store, and had heard that the government man driving it was asking a lot of questions in the area.
Of course, you can just imagine what rumors developed from the local store-sitters who saw the car, and Uncle Sid was a bit concerned why the government had sent someone to his house. He had been taught by his own grandparents to be somewhat cautious of the government. They had gone through the Civil War and Uncle Sid figured they had known what they were talking about when it came to trust in Washington and all.
A young fellow in a white, short sleeve shirt and necktie got out of the car and walked up the old man’s walk with a pad and pencil in his hand. Uncle Sid does not trust anyone, other than a preacher – and not too many of them, who wears a tie in August and comes out on the farm with a pencil and paper in hand.
As the government man stepped up on the steps Uncle Sid asked him, “What are you selling, young feller?”
“I’m not selling anything, sir,” the young man replied very politely. “I’m the Census Taker.”
No one had ever approached Uncle Sid like that before. In fact, he didn’t even know what a census was, let alone someone who actually came to your house and took it from you. Uncle Sid swallowed a bit and asked, “A what?”
The young man from the government knew he had walked upon a real challenge and tried his best to explain his reason for being there. Smiling somewhat he said, “A Census Taker. We are trying to find out how many people are in the United States.”
The young man’s statement caused Uncle Sid to lean back in his old, front porch rocker and take his well-worn cap off his balding head. He took out his red bandana, wiped his brow and began to scratch his head a bit and said, “Well young feller, I guess you’re just wasting your time with me, because I have no idea, but if you find out I sure would like to know.”
To be selected as a Century Farm, a farm owner has to answer several questions and fill out an application. I’m just glad those who have received the honor were much more interested in sharing their information than, I am sure, Uncle Sid would have been.
To be considered for Century Farm eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years, must produce $1,000 in revenue annually, and must have at least 10 acres. There are currently 1,323 Century Farms across the state, with 133 of that number having been around for over 200 years, 594 are 150 years old, and 596 are over 100 years old. The oldest Century Farm in Tennessee is the Masengill Farm located in Sullivan County. More than a year before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, Henry Masengill, Sr. and his wife, Mary Cobb, established the farm in what was then a distant part of the British colony of North Carolina and it is still in operation today.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture began the program in 1976. Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University has handled the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farms Program under the direction of Caneta S. Hankins. A major effort is underway to locate even more farms than may have been recorded.
If you have a possible Century Farm candidate or want more information, you may call 615-898- 2947 or visit the program’s website at tncenturyfarms.org. We promise a government man will not come out and ask you any questions.