At the prospect of cheap land in Todd County, Philip Hartman used his estate savings and began the hard work of farming—from the moment he bought the property. The land had 10 to 15 acres open with deep snow piled on top and maybe some rocks, too, in March 1920, according to grandson Jerome Hartman. He opened the land to 80 acres, mind you by hand and not machinery like today, as Jerome said.
Philip and his siblings were orphaned at an early age and settling the estate near Winnebago meant a “small sum” that he wanted to spend well, and as the 80 acres in Bertha became fields for dairy farming and meadows and pastures the legacy was on its way to sticking. Jerome recalls his grandmother Louvina sharing stories of raising geese and picking raspberries to aid paying off the mortgage.
“They worked hard,” Jerome said.
Jerome’s first memories on the farm include the transition from work horses to tractors, even himself driving a team of horses. His father James likely started with a B John Deere when he gained ownership in 1944, and by the 1970s tractors needed to be bigger, according to Jerome.
While Jerome has owned the property for 41 years, he had no interest after high school graduation.
“Upon graduation in 1963 from the Bertha school, it was my intention to get away from here as fast and as far as I could get and not ever come back,” Jerome said. “Looking back at my life today there’s no regrets. It was a really good place to raise my two sons.”
A letter from James saying, “I’m either going to have to sell or you can have a crack at it” brought him back after four years in the military as well as jobs across the United States with the International Guard. He continued the tradition of dairy farming until 2001.
“It’s a good honest day's work and rewarding,” Jerome said.
While most of his cropland acres are now in a conservation reserve program, a renter grows soybeans on a few acres. The century farm will have reached its last since it’s too small for Jerome to encourage his sons to gain ownership and enlarge the property.
“I suppose you can say it’s kind of bittersweet because I’m proud to be a third generation living on the land but on the other hand it is going to be the end of the journey because … my two sons have no interest in carrying on,” Jerome said. “I managed to get a 100 years out of it and now somebody can work on the next 100.”
The Century Farm recognition program with the Minnesota State Fair and Minnesota Farm Bureau is planning to mail signs and certificates to the farms or country representatives since the fair is canceled, according to the Minnesota State Fair website.