Union County Farm Honored with State’s First Bicentennial Designation

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Brown Bicentennial Farm

Gerald and Betty Brown of Jonesboro were honored by the Illinois Department of Agriculture as the state’s first bicentennial farm family. The Union County Farm Bureau members are the fifth generation on their family farm. Photo by Jody Brown

Corn still grows on the southern Illinois farmland homesteaded 200 years ago by Abraham Brown II, his wife and three children. Today his descendants, Gerald Brown and his son, Todd, grow corn, soybeans and occasionally wheat on those 145 family acres near Jonesboro.

Recently, the Illinois Department of Agriculture recognized the Brown family for the state’s first bicentennial farm. Fittingly, the Union County Farm Bureau members were honored by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois Agriculture Director Raymond Poe on Illinois Agricultural Legislative Day.

The farm’s fifth generation, Brown marvels at his ancestors’ resilience to trek more than 800 miles by horse team and wagon from Rowan County, N.C. Their journey started in 1816.

“It’s hard to imagine how they traveled back then,” Brown said. “And it’s hard to start farming from scratch. They survived a hard time.”

That survival included the family sheltering in a hollow sycamore tree until they built a cabin, according to a local history book. Shortly after that, Abraham registered his land and cattle in 1817. Illinois became the nation’s 21st state Dec. 3, 1818.

For 200 years, the Browns have continued to till the soil, but their methods evolved. “My dad started farming with horses, and I remember my younger years with a team,” Brown said of his father, Ralph.

As for today’s farming technology, “they wouldn’t believe the equipment we have nowadays,” Brown said. “No telling what it will be in another 50 years or 100 years.”

The farm’s sixth generation, Todd Brown reflected on the generations who proceeded him. “I think of the pride that my Grandpa Ralph Brown had for the land. … He spent his whole life on the farm and never left it for more than a few days.

“My dad still has the pride of the land in him and farms it, growing corn and soybeans in a way that would make his dad proud as I hope to do in my lifetime also,” he continued. “I live on the farm with my daughters in the house my grandpa built, so I am sure that the heritage of the Brown farm will continue for generations to come.”

Brown Bicentennial Farm

Marking 200 Years

Illinois is sharing its 200th birthday with special bicentennial farms. Passed by the General Assembly, the bicentennial farm designation recognizes farms held by descendants of the same family for 200 or more years.

To qualify as a bicentennial farm, an agriculture property must be owned by lineal descendants, including children or grandchildren, or collateral descendants, including siblings, nephews, nieces or cousins, for at least 200 years.

Applicants, who complete a form and meet all program requirements, receive an official bicentennial farm sign and a certificate signed by the governor and the Illinois agriculture director. A $50 application fee offsets the cost of the sign.

Click here for details or an application.

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