Maintaining a farm through 150 years and four generations of the same family is no small feat.
When Phillip Metsker and his two brothers arrived in Douglas County in 1858, Lawrence was just four years old. It was three years before Kansas became a state and five years before Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence.
The brothers completed the purchase of 240 acres of farmland in 1860. In the years since then, the Metsker family has nurtured that land through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Like all farmers, they certainly saw livestock die and crops fail. They saw grain prices go up and then back down. They searched the sky for any sign of rain in one year and bemoaned the mud that wouldn’t let them get into the field to harvest a crop the next.
It’s the life of a farmer. It’s not for everyone, but for some it’s a way of life worth fighting for and taking an off-farm job to support.
Farming isn’t the focus it once was in Douglas County. Over the years, significant plots of farm acreage have been gobbled up by urban development and suburban housing. Larger equipment and new technology made it easier for farmers to handle more acres, so the number of farmers dwindled even faster than the agriculture acreage.
Agriculture barely gets a mention these days when Douglas County talks about economic development, unless people are talking about agricultural tourism, but it’s still an important part of the county’s economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Douglas County farmers planted about 41,000 acres of soybeans last year and harvested 1.78 million bushels; 28,000 acres of corn yielded 3.9 million bushels. When prices are good (maybe this year!) that can be a significant impact on the local economy.
The uncertainties of weather, markets and other uncontrollable factors only highlight the accomplishment of the Metskers and other long-time farmers in Douglas County. Keeping a farm in the family for 150 years certainly is worth celebrating, which is what the Metskers plan to do at 5 p.m. Saturday on the farm at 623 E. 800 Road. (Call Debbie Douglas-Metsker at 865-7211 if you’d like to attend.)
It’s a good reminder of the important role agriculture has played in Douglas County from the arrival of the first settlers through the farmers who keep that tradition alive today.