OTTUMWA — Six generations of farming have earned one Ottumwa family an award for its dedication to the land.
Maurice and Melissa Gardner, along with their son Jared, his wife Heather and their two boys, Logan and Cody, gathered in their dining room to reflect on the farm's 168-year history. The farm sits six miles east of Cargill Eddyville and just west of the power plant.
The land has been farmed by the Gardners since the original 160 acres were purchased by Joseph Gardner and his first wife, Clarissa, on Jan. 25, 1845, when they came to southeast Iowa to homestead, Maurice said.
"What the courthouse told me when I dug into the information was that they purchased the land with a land grant from the president," Heather said.
The Gardners will receive the Heritage Farm Award at the Iowa State Fair this month. Through the years, the farm has passed down from Joseph to Jim to Quigley to Charles to Maurice and now to Jared.
Jared tackles the day-to-day operations of the farm while Maurice works at Cargill Eddyville.
Any farm that has been family-owned for 150 years or more receives the award. This year, 67 family farms across the state will receive the award, adding to the 583 family farms that have already received the award since the program launched in 2006. At least 40 acres of the original farmland must still remain in the family in order to qualify for the award.
"Each year, I think the numbers will go down, but they've stayed really steady each year," said Becky Lorenz, program coordinator for the Heritage Farms Program.
The Gardner's farm is comprised of grain and livestock.
"We have a lot of ground that's rolling and needs to be in grass, so the cow herd and the calves have always been an important part of the operation," he said. "We contract feed hogs with Cargill, and the rest is corn and beans. Diversification is important for this size of farm."