Agricultural Review

Plan now for the Century Farm Family reunion Oct. 18

For 45 years, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Century Farm Family program has celebrated and recognized families for 100 years of continuous ownership of their farms. This program began with the 1970 N.C. State Fair as a way to highlight the fair’s theme, “Salute to Agriculture.”

That year, a large push was made to get families to register their farms for the program, resulting in more than 800 farms being qualified. Today, around 1,600 farm families have earned the distinction of being a Century Family Farm, with some families now marking 200 or more years of continuous ownership.

Wakelon Farms of Zebulon, owned by the Fowler family, is one of those. The Fowlers can trace their family farm roots back to 1743, making their farm 273 years old.

The 150-head Angus beef cattle operation includes around 1,400 acres and is operated by Bob Fowler, son of Jane Fowler and the late J.R. Fowler Jr. He owns the farm with his sisters, Jill Bright and Ginny Wheeler. The family has been in the beef cattle business for 60 years; earlier generations raised tobacco, cotton, grains and feed, dairy cattle and timber.

Jane Fowler said her husband believed in investing in land, eventually acquiring five of the original six tracts of land that belonged to his grandfather.

“James Robert’s philosophy was that they aren’t making any more land. He could see it, take care of it and enjoy it,” Jane Fowler said. “On both sides of his family were men who loved land, and he invested in that versus other things.”

Bob Fowler, who is the eighth generation on the farm, inherited his dad’s love for the land. He appreciates his family’s long connection to the rolling hills, streams and open pastures that make up the farm in northern Wake County, and works to improve the land in a variety of ways while also making his living through farming.

“I’m not going to do anything to pollute the land I make a living on and is my heritage; or not improve it,” Bob Fowler said. “Everywhere we have creeks, we have fenced off to keep the cattle out. The water has the same quality as a good quality mountain stream.”

Dotting the property are patches of wildflower plots and brush he has planted specifically to foster wildlife, pollinators and birds. “I like to do a lot of wildlife plots,” he said. “We have areas with prairie grass mix, along with plots with persimmon trees, coneflower plants, nut trees and Maximilian sunflowers. Those provide great habitat and food for quail, rabbits, turkeys and deer.”

Bird houses are affixed to fence posts around the property to house some of these visiting inhabitants. Bits of twigs and grass peeking from entrances and corners of these simple boxes indicate the homes are welcomed and used.

During an early morning drive to check on the cattle, a flock of quail flushed up from the brush, filling the air above the cattle grazing in the lush, green pasture. It is a snapshot-worthy moment; nature awakening to a new day, stirred into motion and flight.

“It is rare to see that large of a group of quail flush from a field these days,” Bob Fowler said. “That’s a pretty sight to see.”

Bob Fowler graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in animal science. His degree, plus his firsthand experience in the business, serves him well in managing the farm.

Jane Fowler grew up on a dairy farm in Chatham County. It is also a Century Farm. “When I got married, I had no idea that I’d be back on a farm.” But she helped her husband and his parents manage the farm, from handling some of the paperwork to other day-to-day activities. Jane Fowler was also active in the Angus Association’s ladies auxiliary.

On the walls of the home office are a number of plaques, framed awards and the Century Farm certificate, reminders of all that the family has worked for through the years.

Jane Fowler said some of the fondest memories she has of the farm is of family, from being next door to her husband’s mother and father and near his sisters to raising their three kids on the farm.

“This farm fills me with humble heritage pride and deep thankful emotions,” she said. “We all have consistently worked, and we all have been truly blessed.”

Century Farm Families can be found in in all but two of the state’s 100 counties – Dare and Swain. “We would love to recognize a family in each county,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Online Century Farm records indicate the oldest farm in the program is the farm owned by Carl V. Brake in Edgecombe County, which dates to 1704.

As a farmer himself, Troxler knows how hard it is to keep family land in the family, especially as people move away from the farm to pursue other careers. Development also has presented challenges to continued family ownership.

“We see examples of land transitioning from agriculture to development in lots of areas of the state, especially around urban areas, the mountains and the coast,” Troxler said. “When you consider that much of the state’s open land and timberland is privately owned and that the average age of farmers is 58, you realize we could see a significant generational shift in land ownership in the next 25 years that could reshape the look of our state.

“It is no small task to maintain ownership of farmland, and the Century Farm Families who do, take a great deal of pride in their farming heritage and in the lineage of the farm,” Troxler said. “It’s great to be able to recognize their commitment to the land.”



NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Andrea Ashby, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047