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story.lead_photo.caption Rose Runyon leans Saturday on the shoulder of her grandfather, Ronald Gordon, as they take a tour of the fields on Rocky Top Farm. Gordon has been teaching his daughter, Becky, and his grandchildren how to work the land and maintain the family tradition of running the farm. In doing so, he also passes along the history of the land. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

The importance of farming, and in particular family farms, was highlighted this past week when the Cole County University of Missouri Extension Council awarded three local farms with the Missouri Century Farm designation.

The families recognized included the Rado and Brenda Popp family, whose farm was established in 1864; the Roark, Templeton and Gordon families for the Rocky Top Farm established in 1887; and the Bates, Fluegel and Graham families for the Harold and Mary Jane Graham farm established in 1913.

The Popp farm is located off Route E, between Brazito, Wardsville and St. Thomas.

"George Popp settled in Cole County in 1854 and had six chidren," Rado Popp said. "He was able to give each of his children a farm, and that's how we got started."

Popp has retired but still takes care of some cattle and crops on the property.

"You can find the Popp family farming in Audrain, Callaway and Miller counties," Popp said. "We've got seven generations that are tied into farming."

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Ronnie Gordon said the Rocky Top Farm was purchased by his great-great uncle.

"Then he gave the farm to my grandpa and grandma for taking care of him," Gordon said. "From that point on, it's been passed on down through the family."

Now, Gordon has passed the 76-acre farm on West Brazito Road down to his two daughters and their husbands.

"We raise hay now, and that's all," Gordon said. "The people who we sell it to need it now because they have about 200 head of cattle, and it takes a lot of hay to get them through the winter."

Harold and Mary Jane Graham said they wished Mary Jane's family would have been able to see the recognition their farm south of Russellville was getting.

"Mary Jane's grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Bates, bought the farm," Harold Graham said. "We just limed the whole farm recently and try to take care of it."

"Mom and Dad had chickens and cattle and the whole thing when I was growing up," Mary Jane Graham laughed. "We just use it for hay farming now."

The Missouri Centennial Farm Project began in 1976, awarding certificates to people owning farms that had been in the same family for 100 years or more. The MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, along with MU Extension, planned a 10-year update in 1986 called the Century Farm Program, and since then the program has become an annual event, recognizing more than 100 farms each year.

"One hundred consecutive years of family ownership of a farm is a significant milestone to be recognized from a cultural and stewardship perspective," county Extension Engagement Specialist Lynda Zimmerman said.

Ronnie Gordon's daughters, Annette West and Becky Bocklage, worked on getting the Century Farm designation for their dad's farm.

"The pride in having a family farm runs deep," West said. "We have extended family who still come out and enjoy the farm, so it's been a hub for us. To be able to hang on to this farmland for this many years is very significant."

The Gordons and Grahams talked about how the importance of farming is sometimes forgotten in today's society.

"People don't worry about whether the farmer is making it or if their crops are failing or not," Gordon said. "They just think they can go to the grocery store and get whatever they want. These old farms have been feeding the world for a long time."

"We didn't go to the store that much when I was growing up because we raised our own meat, and my mom made her own bread, so it's totally different now," Mary Jane Graham said.

To qualify for the designation, farms must meet the following criteria:

The same family must have owned the farm for 100 consecutive years.

The line of ownership from the original settler or buyer may be through children, grandchildren, siblings and nephews and nieces, including through marriage or adoption.

The farm must be at least 40 acres of the original land acquisition and make a financial contribution to the overall farm income.

"I think about our family and their lifestyle at the time the farm first started and would they have thought this would have sustained through six generations and still be important to us," Bocklage said. "I think they're proud."

Since the start of the initial program in 1976, more than 8,000 Missouri Century Farms have been recognized.

"I'm very fortunate to be able to farm, and I'm proud of what we've done," Popp said. "I've had people who work in big companies tell me that when they retire, they want to get an acre of land and live the rural life. Well, I got to do it my entire life, and I just think how very fortunate I've been."

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