Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part look at Century Farms in our area

BRIDGEWATER — Framed pictures of vibrant green farmland hang on the walls of DJ Myers’ office.

It’s common to stumble upon pictures of agricultural life covering the walls at the Rockingham Cooperative’s Agriculture and Farm Supply Store in Bridgewater, but the photos in Myers’ office showcase land his ancestors once worked at his family’s Century Farm — Walkup Holstein Farm.

During a span of nearly 144 years, the Walkup Holstein Farm saw a legacy built by the Myers family — a legacy recognized in 2019 when Myers’ father and sister, Dan Myers and Teresa Callender, became the third and fourth persons from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area to be inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame.

But roughly three years ago, the family decided changes needed to be made and, in 2021, the sale of the Century Farm was finalized.

“We were either going to need to start another enterprise, all have jobs and live there or make a change, and that’s how we decided to go,” Myers said. “It was a good change.”

When the choice was made to sell the farm, Myers said it was a “mixed bag” of emotions. He knew once it was sold, there was no way of getting it back.

“What happens when Century Farms go away? You never get them back,” he said. “They’re gone.”

Rockingham County is home to 56 Century Farms recognized through the state’s Century Farm Program overseen by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Through various interviews with the Daily News-Record, it was confirmed Rockingham County lost at least two Century Farms since VDACS last updated its website.

Dale Gardner, former president of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association and farm and land specialist with Lee & Associates real estate firm, said more could be lost in the future.

“I think if there are 56 now, there is a real possibility it could drop to half that,” he said. “A lot depends, just a lot depends.”

Gardner said economics in the next few years will determine the future of Century Farms, with more than 40% of farmland in the United States owned by those 65 years of age and older.

According to data from the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers rose to 57.5 in 2017, an increase of 1.2 years from 2012.

Gardner said, in some cases, farmers are no longer encouraging their children to follow in their footsteps because it’s not an easy practice.

“When you look at what makes a farm continue, what makes a Century Farm or not, the economics definitely is the driving factor as to whether the kids want to take it over, whether they can continue farming it or lease it out,” he said. “Some people put it into a conservation easement, some people will look at solar. Those kinds of things come into play when they are looking for options to get the highest and best use out of their farm.”

Steve Funkhouser’s heart is in agriculture, but lately he has wondered whether his two children will decide to take over his family’s Century Farm in McGaheysville.

His father faced the same dilemma decades ago.

When a barn storing the majority of their farming equipment burned down in 1977, Funkhouser said his father approached him and his two brothers and asked if they would still be interested in taking over the farm.

“I told my dad upfront my intention is to come back and help you guys, but quite frankly, if for some reason I’m not blessed with kids, when y’all pass, I’m done. But if the Lord agrees and I’m blessed with kids, sign me up. I’m in for the duration,” he said. “Needless to say I was blessed with two healthy kids, so I guess I was in for the duration then.”

Funkhouser said his parents always told him he was welcome to come back to the farm, but it was OK if he wanted to take a different path. Now, he is passing on the same view to his children.

With pressures to turn farmland into a development or pursue other avenues, Funkhouser said he understood there isn’t much incentive to continue farming if his children decided to do so.

By the same token, he said, the farm has been the family farm for over a century. That’s why Teresa Wine, of Timberville, is working to make sure a relative takes over the Century Farm she inherited from her father.

As an only child, Wine remembers vividly the days she worked with her father on the farm. When her father died two years ago, Willow Spring Farm was passed down to her. That’s where the direct lineage will end.

“I can’t pass it down. My son is physically handicapped and needs total care,” she said.

After her father died, the farm lost its Century Farm title when it stopped producing more than $2,500 in sales annually from farm products.

Wine continues to raise animals on the farm, and often refers to the property as the Old McDonald Farm as she has donkeys, ducks and alpacas.

“It was wonderful growing up here, and I want to make sure the farm stays in the family,” she said. “I’m in the process of selling the house to my cousin, and they are interested in taking it over when I’m gone.”

Wine said keeping the farm within the family was important because it was history that is unfortunately disappearing.

At one point, Willow Spring Farm was more than 300 acres. Today, it’s roughly 30.

“[The farm] is for pleasure now; it’s not a workable farm,” she said. “Unfortunately, farms are very expensive to keep up with.”

Gardner said in his experience with Lee & Associates, many farms are being sold because a farmer’s retirement is tied up in the property. In Wine’s case, portions of the land were sold to fund her son’s medical needs.

As Century Farms face a future of disappearing, Myers said he tries to not get hung up on the words “Century Farm.”

“That just means it’s been around for a long time,” he said. “It’s every generation that put everything they had into it. That’s what makes a Century Farm. The dirt’s the dirt and we the century farmers are nothing but multigenerational caregivers to the earth.”

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or jwetzler@dnronline.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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