Bicentennial farming

MANNS CHOICE – A Bedford County farm was honored as a Bicentennial Farm for being operated for 200 years during the recent 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

The Ralph and Geraldine Fair farm in Harrison Township near here was among three farms recognized by state Agriculture Secretary George Greig.

“We feel proud of that. We are glad we lasted that long,” said Ralph Fair, 81.

“The Farm Show is a great place to recognize our state’s longstanding, dedicated farm families,” Greig said. “More than 97 percent of Pennsylvania farms are family owned, and many pass from generation to generation.”

He called the farms that were honored “a shining example of our state’s rich farming heritage that spans centuries.”

Since the inception of the Century Farm program in 1977 and the Bicentennial Farm program in 2004, the agriculture department has recognized 1,926 Century and 160 Bicentennial farms.

Information on the Fair farm dates back to the original sheepskin deed from the William Penn family to John Anderson, founder of the Bedford Springs Resort.

The farm was sold Sept. 5, 1812, from Anderson to Ralph Fair’s great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Turner for $5 per acre.

“Anderson owned land all over Bedford County. Lewis was here in 1800; he came from Loudon County, Va.,” said Randy Hillegass, Ralph Fair’s son-in-law and bookkeeper. “Lewis lived here and likely farmed this before he bought it.”

Ralph Fair represents the sixth generation of his family to run the farm. He and his brother, Floyd, took over the farm from their parents on Feb. 12, 1959, and were partners until Floyd died in 2006. He said he never thought about doing anything else.

“Our family didn’t push school. I was the only one of the three of us who went to college, then started to farm,” said Ralph Fair, who received a two-year degree in animal husbandry from Penn State in the early 1950s.

Fair’s other brother, Harold, was not involved with the farm.

Ralph Fair retired from active farming about 10 years ago.

Today, Fair Family Farms LLC is run by Ralph and Geraldine’s four children – Barbara Hillegass (Randy’s wife and a teacher at Bedford Elementary School), sons Tom and Bob and daughter Bonnie Waugerman, an elementary school teacher. Bonnie’s husband, Eddy, also works on the farm.

John and Richard, two other sons of the Fairs, are not involved with the farm.

The oldest building on the farm, a farmhouse built in 1837, is used as a rental unit for farm employees.

The 226-acre farm – a dairy and poultry operation – is the only Pennsylvania Certified Organic Dairy in Bedford County.

About 60 cows are milked daily, and the milk is sent to Horizon Organic, the largest supplier of organic milk in North America.

The Fairs got into the poultry business in 2005 and today have about 150,000 egg-laying hens. The eggs are shipped to Penn Embryo in Ephrata for processing.

Ralph Fair said machinery is the biggest change he has seen in farming over the years.

“All of the machinery is better and more efficient,” he said.

Hillegass credits the success of the family farm to their faith in God.

“We have had our blessings come from God and our family working together. Other than milking a cow, they never plant a field on Sunday. They don’t even take in hay; they observe the Lord’s day. That really sticks out to me. They have been blessed for taking a day of rest,” Hillegass said.

The future of the family farm rests with Ralph and Geraldine’s grandson, Luke Waugerman, 15, a sophomore at Bedford High School.

“If Luke doesn’t take it over, we don’t have anyone to take it over and would have to sell it,” Ralph Fair said. “That is our only chance for now.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.