FORT JENNINGS — Seven families who own and operate farms that are least 100 years old will receive the Century Farm Award Sunday.
The award, which honors those with a working farm that has reached that major milestone, is given by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo, the social service branch of the diocese. The first Century Farm Awards were given in 1988.
“I think about 150 plaques have been distributed over that time period,” said Rodney Schuster, executive director for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo.
Recipients of the award have to prove they meet the eligibility requirements and also must fulfill a list of criteria which includes quite a bit of paperwork. To be eligible, first, the farm’s age has to be proven. Second, a descendant of the original family must be currently living there — and farming the land or be retired from farming the land. Third, the farm must be located in the diocese — there are 19 counties — and be owned by a practicing Catholic.
Work is not done at that point. Families must gather original deeds, write reports on family lineage, and take at least one current photo of the farm.
Schuster said every year, between five and 10 families receive the Century Farm Award. The Catholic Charities’ Rural Life Advisory Board, which advocates for the local farming community at the state legislature level and creates awareness of the rural community, sponsors the award. They review the submissions, but Schuster said no one has ever been rejected.
The ceremony will be held at noon at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fort Jennings. Schuster said each year they look at the locations of the recipients and try to choose a church that is centrally located to all the recipients to make travel easier. Bishop Daniel Thomas will start the ceremony with Mass. After the Mass, the award plaques will be handed out. This will be followed by a reception for the recipients, their families and members of the parish.
“We will spend time sharing stories of the farms,” Schuster said. “Recipients often recount their faith journeys over the years.”
One of the reasons the Century Farm Awards are given is because the Diocese of Toledo is made up of a lot of rural areas.
“Farms are a symbolism of the fruit of our hands,” Schuster said. “Farms are such a valuable part of life. We just really want to create awareness of the rural community in general. “
Schuster also said farm families are a vital part of the Diocese of Toledo.
“Farm families were so instrumental in forming the diocese,” he said. “In Putnam County, there are these beautiful churches that were built on the labor of farm families.”
For Daniel and June Gerdeman, of Glandorf, who were one of the recipients, submitting the paperwork was a lesson in family history.
“I’m a history buff,” said June Gerdeman. “As I did the paperwork, I got to know the history. I found out a lot about my husband’s family, the Rieman family. John Hermann Rieman came from Germany to this country. He walked from Cincinnati to up here. It was in late winter, early spring. Can you imagine?”
The Gerdeman farm far exceeds the requirement of being 100 years old. Founded March 19, 1837, it is only 20 years away from being 200 years old. The working farm consists of 80 acres where the Gerdemans raise soybeans, wheat and corn, and they also raise sheep for their meat and wool.
June Gerdeman said the award is meaningful to her.
“I’m proud of my husband’s history and that it can be carried on to the next generation,” she said. “I feel like the family heritage needs to continue. I don’t think there are too many family farms this old around.”
One of those other few would belong to Nicholas Schulte, whose farm was established Feb. 26, 1914. Schulte raises corn, soybeans and wheat on his 132 acres.
Schulte’s family also came over from Germany to establish the Schulte Brothers Farm, and Schulte farms with his brothers Carl and John Schulte.
As with the Gerdemans, it is the deep roots of the farm that are most meaningful.
“It’s kind of a family history event,” said Schulte. “It’s something to kind of be proud of, and that we want to be continuing on in some way.”