For more than half a century, the Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation has teamed up with the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Association of Fair Managers to present the Pioneer Farm Award, recognizing Nebraska farm families who have consecutively held ownership of land in the same family for 100 years or more, but more recently, they’ve announced the Heritage Farm Award, which recognizes Nebraska farm families that have consecutively held ownership of land within the same family for 150 years.
You can count the Duerfeldt family among those who have worked the fertile Nebraska soil since the 1850s. The Barada-area farm ground has been in the Duerfeldt family since 1858 — before the start of the Civil War — when 80 acres were purchased with less than $20,000 in gold.
Marvin and Norma Lee Duerfeldt were presented one of the state’s 12 Heritage Farm Awards by Richardson County Ag Society representatives Glenn Hayward and Jim Standerford on Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Humboldt Fire Hall. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the County Fair. Joining their parents at the presentation were the Duerfeldt’s five children — Barb (Ron) Elliott, Sharon (Ray) Bennett, Glenda Kermoade, Richard (Jan) Duerfeldt and Cathy (Dan) Scholl — and Marvin’s sister, Bernice Matthes.
The presentation came 54 years after Marvin and Norma Lee stood alongside Marvin’s parents, Clifford and Edna Duerfeldt, in accepting the Pioneer Farm Award in 1961.
To date, more than 9,000 families in all 93 Nebraska counties have been honored, though just 12 earned Heritage Farm Awards in 2015. The Duerfeldt’s were the lone recipients from Richardson County, though David F. Dunekacke, of Johnson, and Evelyn Stoddard Jensen, of Liberty, MO, were Heritage Farm Award recipients from Nemaha County.
Gustav Christian Duerfeldt, treasurer of a group of colonists from Buffalo, NY, came to Nebraska in 1858 and put $4,200 in gold down on selected acres near Arago (Barada Precinct 30-3-17). He returned one year later with another $14,00 worth of gold to make the final payment. Gustav C. had previously migrated to the United States from East Prussia with his father, Johan Duerfeldt, (his mother died in 1841), three brothers and two sisters by sailing vessel, “The Bart Caroline.” After sailing 116 days, they arrived and settled in Buffalo on Sept. 25, 1846.
The depression of 1857 encouraged the move west.
In September 1861, Gustav C. and Louise (Parchen), two sons and one daughter came to Nebraska for good, moving into a log cabin.
By 1882, Gustav C. had expanded the operation to 170 acres by purchasing adjoining land. The first Duerfeldt son born in Nebraska, Gustav W. “Gus” Duerfeldt, was one of the first in the area to implement advanced farming practices and was also one of the first to plant fruit trees.
Gus married Elizabeth (Adami) in 1892 and they had three daughters and a son, Clifford. Gus took over the farming operation in 1894, which included raising livestock and annually feeding several carloads of cattle and hogs. Fat cattle were driven by hoof about 10 miles to a rail sitting at Straussville. Hogs were hauled in a box by team and wagon.
On May 6, 1907, Gustav C. transferred the 170 acres to Gus, who planted approximately eight acres of catalpa trees near the farmstead known as “Catalpa Lane Farm.” For years, Gus was involved in public affairs, working as branch manager and stockholder of the Barada Exchange of Southeast Nebraska Telephone Co., president and stockholder of the Barada Bank, precinct assessor and Woodmen of the World insurance agent.
When Clifford married Edna (Ruegge) in 1919 and purchased the farm on Feb. 6, 1929, he represented the third generation to take over the Duerfeldt farming operation. They had three children: sons Lester and Marvin and a daughter, Bernice.
Clifford farmed with horses until 1941 when he bought his first tractor, and corn was shucked by hand until 1953 when he bought a mounted corn picker. A threshing machine was used to thresh oats, wheat and rye until the late 1940’s. He continued feeding cattle and hogs and milking cows and always had a hired man to help with the farming until 1945, when Marvin graduated from high school.
In 1959, Clifford bought 190 adjoining acres, making a 360-acre tract. He and his two sons farmed together until 1984, working some 700 acres, mostly corn to feed 400 feeder steers bought at 750 pounds and fattened to 1,300 pounds. Several hundred hogs were both farrowed and then sold as feeder pigs. Marvin and Lester milked 12 to 15 cows. Clover, alfalfa and soybeans weren’t raised until the 1970’s.
Marvin married Norma Lee (Constantine) in May 1951 and raised their five children in the house built for Gustav C. and Louise in 1893. They bought 160 acres, which included the original 80 first purchased by Gustav C. in 1861, from Clifford in October 1970 and bought the remaining 200 when Clifford passed away in 1989. By adding another 160 acres in Section 8-3-16, Marvin and Norma Lee brought the family farm up to its current total of 520 acres.
Today all but two waterways have been converted to tile (Marvin and Norma Lee received the Richardson County Conservation Award in 1979 for having 160 acres totally conserved with terraces and waterways). Marvin continues to raise corn and soybeans. He raised feeder steers and steers on grass until 1995. Norma Lee down through the years has maintained a large garden, producing hundreds of jars of canned food, 50 laying hens and 250 broiler chickens which stopped in 1995 due to health.
Marvin’s view of farmsteads has changed immensely. There isn’t as much livestock in pens, barns have become obsolete, corn cribs have been replaced by grain bins and machine sheds are now a “must have.” Although he’s seen these changes, he says he wouldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Marvin, 87, and Norma Lee, 84, in addition to their five children, have also been blessed with 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.