Century Farm & Ranch Program
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a presentation for one of our agency’s Century Farm and Ranch program. Our agency’s District 5 Trustee, Paul Smith, presented a Century Farm designation to the descendants of Harry D. Smith and Swan and Amanda Young, whose families had resided on and farmed the same 160 acres in Heyburn, Idaho, since 1904. Our agency has supported the Century Farm and Ranch program since 1990, and over that time, the program has recognized more than 450 individual farms and ranches. Please keep reading to learn more about the program and other ways the agency has honored our state’s long agricultural history.
In the late 1980s, as leaders across the state were planning Idaho’s centennial celebration, individuals and entities in Idaho’s agricultural industry were considering ways to honor and recognize the state’s farming history during the 1990 centennial year. Leaders with the Idaho Centennial Commission, the state Department of Agriculture, Food Producers of Idaho, Inc., an umbrella farm group, and the Idaho State Historical Society devised three projects to support the centennial. The first was a roadside sign project to identify crops and livestock adjacent to Idaho’s state highways and county roads. The project intended that the inmates at Idaho Correctional Industries would fabricate the signs. The second project was a restoration of the horse and dairy barns at the Old Idaho Penitentiary with the intention that those sites would house a state agricultural museum. The third project was a recognition program for farms with continuous family ownership and cultivation for 100 years. State leaders modeled this recognition program after Iowa’s “Century Farm” program, which dated to 1976, and as of 1988, included 8,760 individual century farms.
The most ambitious and expensive of the three proposed projects was the restoration of two sandstone barns adjacent to the Old Idaho Penitentiary and the creation of a state agricultural museum. While all three projects had the potential to inform Idahoans about the state’s agricultural industry well after the fanfare of the centennial had passed, the Centennial Commission found the concept of an agrarian museum most intriguing. In writing to ISHS Historic Sites Administrator Jerry Ostermiller in 1988, Centennial Commission Project Administrator Barrett Rainey noted that the idea for an agricultural museum sounded like “something that should have already been done.”
In 1989, the Centennial Commission’s History Committee awarded a $2,000 grant to ISHS to conduct a feasibility study to move the museum project, which aimed to preserve Idaho’s agricultural industry’s technological, social, and scientific advances forward. While the feasibility study showed that installing an agricultural museum had merit, it also highlighted the site’s dire preservation needs: a new roof. By December 1990, the ISHS Historic Sites Administrator reported that the agency had taken the finding to heart and installed a new roof. Although the concept of an ag museum never came to fruition, the momentum and public interest generated through the feasibility study and the Centennial Commission’s work contributed to our agency’s ability to restore these buildings and prevent irreparable damage. Today, the College of Western Idaho’s Horticulture Technology department leases these buildings to support the next generation of Idaho horticulturalists and ag specialists.
Of the three proposed agricultural projects, the Century Farms project had long-term success. Between 1989 and April 1990, agricultural extension offices, local granges, and farm bureau offices at the county level accepted the Century Farm program applications, and these offices anticipated more than 300 applications. While the Department of Agriculture vetted each application, the Centennial Commission hosted a design contest for Century Farm signs. The winning slogan read, “Idaho Century Farm: Family Owned and Operated Since,” with each farm’s date added.
During Idaho’s centennial year, the program recognized 277 Century Farms, of which twenty-three were in Cassia County. During the summer of 1990, Governor Cecil Andrus attended county fairs and special events where he presented awards to the inaugural century farm designees. In addition to receiving such recognition, each application also became part of the permanent collections of the Idaho State Archives. These records tell the history of this program but also help preserve the agricultural history of the state.
After Idaho’s Centennial Celebration, the century farm program faded from view. In 2000, however, our agency worked with the Department of Agriculture to revive and expand the program to better include Idaho’s ranching heritage. Our efforts to support the program have remained strong. Andrew Brescini, a descendant of pioneer Harry D. Smith had these words to share after his family farm received century status:
“While our two farms could best be described, in my opinion, as simple, I hope that their stories help to honor and provide insight into the hard work and resilience not only of my ancestors but of the many more original pioneers of the Minidoka Project who were instrumental in creating some of the best agricultural land in the nation.”
While the history of the Century Farms program is short compared to the farms and ranches the program honors, the last thirty-one years have revealed that Idaho’s agricultural industry is strong. Through this program, we preserve the stories of Idaho’s pioneering agrarian families. Still, more importantly, we are building and fostering relationships with our rural neighbors and ensuring that Idaho’s agricultural industry remains vibrant and continues to thrive in the future.
AR75, Idaho Centennial Commission Records, Idaho State Archives
AR12, Idaho State Historical Society Records, Idaho State Archives
Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho
South Idaho Press, Burley, Idaho
The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho
Citation: AR75_Box 20022997_Fld Idaho Agriculture History Museum, History Committee, Idaho State Archives
Caption: The stone horse barn behind the Old Idaho Penitentiary complex was built in 1912. The building with its hayloft and side building is 8,160 square feet, and its ground measures 55 ft x 94 ft. ISHS restore the roof on this property in 1989 and again in 2019.
Citation: Century Farm Plaque, ISHS, 2021
Caption: The Smith and Young Century Farms Plaque, 2021
Citation: Smith-Young Century Farm, ISHS, 2021
Caption: Sally Brescini, State Historian HannaLore Hein, and Andrew Brescini, on the Smith Farm, Heyburn, Idaho, August 6, 2021.
Caption: Smith Young Sisters, ISHS, 2021
Caption: Lynn Variano, “DM” Smith, and Sally Brescini, granddaughters of original homesteader, Harry D. Smith.