by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Ritchie Berkland and his family relish the opportunity to live and work on their Century Farm near Cylinder in Palo Alto County.
“A century farm is a connection to family, from my ancestors to my siblings to my children,” says Berkland, whose son, Grant, 26, lives in New Jersey, and daughter, Meghan, 19, is a student at Iowa State University (ISU). “This is a gathering place, and my wife, Cynthia, and I are glad we’ve kept the farm in our family.”
Farming has been a way of life for the Berkland family for generations. The family’s Vernon Township farm dates back to 1891, when Berkland’s great-grandfather, Christian Knudson, homesteaded the land. In 1938, Berkland’s father, Amos, and mother, Pearl, purchased the farm and kept the land in the family.
Berkland’s father, who had grown up with traditional horse power, enjoyed working with horses and was known for his superior ability to cross-check corn. As farming methods evolved, a mounted picker on the family’s Super M tractor helped bring in the harvest, recalled Berkland, who noted that it took his father, his Uncle Melvin and his Uncle Bert the good part of a day to get the picker set up and ready to go. “When Dad got a two-row, pull-type New Idea picker in the mid 1960s, he thought that was the cat’s meow,” said Berkland, who noted that his father raised corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa on 320 acres.
Berkland didn’t realize how interested he was in farming until he left home to study farm operations at ISU. “I discovered that I really missed the farm and wanted to return.”
After Berkland completed his degree in 1975 and began farming full time, he raised hogs, purebred sheep, corn, and soybeans. He’ll never forget the 1988 drought, when he didn’t even make 100 bushels per acre of corn on his north farm. Despite the tough times, the Berklands were able to keep farming, and Berkland began selling seed around 1993 to supplement the family’s income. “I like being around people and enjoy talking to farmers, so it was a natural fit,” said Berkland, who sells Latham Hi-Tech Seeds to farmers in Palo Alto and Emmet Counties.
Berkland is impressed by how superior seed genetics have continued to push yields higher. “When I started farming, getting 125 bushels per acre on corn was a big deal. By the 1990s, about 160 to 165 bushels per acre was as good as it usually got. Then we took a quantum leap forward in recent years with all the new traits and genetics. Now I’ve had years where the average has been 217 bushels per acre.”
One thing that hasn’t changed on Berkland’s farm is his commitment to conservation. For years, he and his family have planted evergreens, shrubs, and tall grasses for windbreaks and wildlife habitat. The Berklands also carry on their family’s tradition of serving hearty, home-cooked meals, especially when everyone gets together at the farm each 4th of July.
“There are no magic amounts for the ingredients in some of my recipes, including my Cheddar Chowder soup,” said Cynthia Berkland, who shares three of her family’s favorite recipes. “I just add a lot of what my family likes and keep tweaking until I think it’s just right. Just call me ‘Goldilocks!’”
- 5 potatoes
- 1 medium onion
- 5 to 6 carrots
- 3 celery stalks
- 2-4 cans cheddar cheese soup
- 2 cups ham (diced)
Cut veggies into bite-sized pieces and boil in salted water for about 10 minutes until tender but not mushy. Mix soup and milk until creamy, then add diced ham and veggies. You can include a little of the water, but you should drain most of it, or the soup will be too thin. Simmer until hot clear through but not boiling.
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 15-ounce jar Cheez Whiz
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 10-ounce packages chopped, frozen broccoli
- 3 cups raw Minute Rice
Saute butter, onion, and celery. Mix all ingredients and place in a 9 x 13 pan or 2 casseroles. Bake at 375° for 45-60 minutes (60 minutes gives a nicer, crispier edge, which my family likes). This can be frozen and baked when needed.
THREE BEAN CASSEROLE
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 pound diced bacon
- 1 tablespoon dark molasses
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 can each kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans (all drained), pork & beans
Brown ground beef, bacon, and onion. Drain, then add ketchup and brown sugar. Combine all ingredients and simmer. Bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours. Can be cooled and frozen, then baked later, if desired.