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Organic Agriculture: Berlekamp Century Farm

March 30, 2009

150-year-old Berlekamp farm gets century award

By Vicki Johnson,

POSTED: March 29, 2009
Article Photos
Steve and Karen Berlekamp sit outside of their Century Farm, located on TR 75.

Steve and Karen Berlekamp’s 160-acre farm on TR 75 is one of the newest properties in Ohio to be recognized as a Century Farm.

“It’s really 150 years,” Steve said. “I didn’t realize it was that old until I went to the courthouse.”

His great-great grandfather, Gamaliel Wagner, bought the original 40 acres April 6, 1859, and passed it down to his daughter, Emma, and her husband, Fred Berlekamp, in April 1896. It then went to their son, Virgil, in April 1942, and on to Ray and Marjorie Berlekamp in April 1979.

Steve and Karen acquired the property in August 2006.

Before the land was purchased by “Grandpa Wagner,” the land had changed hands four times since the first owner bought if from the federal government in 1834.

“I got a copy of the deed,” Steve said. “It’s hard to read. It’s hand written, and things are misspelled.”

Wagner bought the original 40 acres for $500, or $12.50 an acre.

“He had the $500 in his pocket when he bought it,” Steve said. “It states in the deed he paid cash.”

According to a family story handed down through the years, Steve said the farm wasn’t his first choice.

“There was a farm in Sandusky County he wanted, but when he went back to buy it, it was under water,” he said. “There were Indians – Seneca or Wyandot – living on the land when great-grandpa bought it.”

Steve said he decided to check into the Century Farm program because he was planning to apply for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Easement Purchase Program – a program where ODA’s Office of Farmland Preservation can buy the development rights to agricultural land using Clean Ohio funds.

A farm with Century Farm status earns more points in the competitive application process.

“I didn’t know exactly how old it was,” he said.

Although the application wasn’t accepted this year, Steve said the process of reviewing the old records to become a Century Farm was interesting.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. It helped that his grandfather, Virgil Berlekamp, had told him family stories through the years.

With the assistance of people in the recorder’s office, research to locate the deeds required to show ownership only took about an hour.

“There was one deed they had a heck of time coming up with,” he said.

Steve said the land came to be in the Berlekamp name because “Grandpa Wagner” had all daughters.

“He gave them (Fred and Emma) the farm for taking care of him in his old age,” he said. “They were the only ones who wanted to do it.”

Fred had emigrated from Germany in the 1870s when he was three years old.

“It’s really been in the Berlekamp name for over 100 years because it was transferred to them in 1896,” he said.

Fred proceeded to buy the farm’s other 120 acres. In total, he owned 360 acres.

“He gave 120 acres to each of his three kids,” Steve said.

It was Virgil who added onto the house and built two more houses on the property – one across the road and one next door. The barn – still with its hand-hewn beams – was originally built near the road, but was moved to its current location around 1900. According to stories, a tornado moved it another two feet in 1959.

Through the years, the farm has grown a variety of crops. At one time it grew potatoes and they still have a horse-drawn potato planter. Truck crops – tomatoes and other vegetables – were produced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Steve and Karen have raised three daughters on the farm, now adults, and they have one granddaughter.

Today, the farm’s 160 acres is certified organic and the Berlekamps grow corn, oats and spelts.

“(Spelts) is a small grain in the wheat family,” Steve said. “Really, wheat was derived from spelts.”

He said the grain has almost double the protein of wheat and is a wheat substitute. Bread, cereal and other products made from spelts are available to anyone who is looking for them.

“People allergic to wheat products, spelts they can tolerate,” he said.

Berlekamp said he completed the switch to organic production in 1997.

“I was just tired of using so many chemicals,” he said. “I could see the land was suffering because of the high chemical use.”

“When you spray, you kill all the earthworms,” Karen added.

In addition to their own land, the Berlekamps farm 690 more acres for a total of 850 – all in one block.

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