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Farm recognized for perseverance

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BARN: Locally-hewn logs can be seenin the origional barn on the family’s homestead. Killen said many old barns are not maintainedbecause their assessed values are high, which means the owner pays high property taxes even if the barn, like theirs, isn’t in use.
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DON: Second-generation farmer Don Killen stands in front of his barn which has been updated through it’s 100-year existence.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Don Killen began helping his dad farm by driving the tractor when he was just 8 years old, and now he’s reached one of the most prestigious milestones in Hoosier farming history: the Hoosier Homestead Award.

For more than 100 years, the Killen family has lived in the same neighborhood working the land. His father’s farm was about a mile away from their farm now, and their nephew farms land a few miles away.

His father was a progressive farmer, a philosophy that runs in the family’s genes. The Killens had a variety of specialty tools, including a thresher, clover huller and corn picker before those tools became mainstream. Their neighborhood was one of the first farming communities to have a rubber-tire tractor, and the family’s land has changed with the trends, growing in size from small fenced-off areas to large, rolling fields.

“When I first started helping my father, we had 10- acre fields,” Killen said. “Well then later on, we planted some more land to farm and then we went to 20-acre fields. Now everybody – there’s no fences, everybody’s farming road-to-road.”

Killen remembers the sound of the hay car hitting the tracks as he would drive a horse to pull hay up into the barn. He thought he was helping by riding the horse, but one day he got a bee sting and swelled up, so he couldn’t help out.

“I looked out and there went the horse with nobody on it,” Killen said. “He had it well trained, and he would just holler at it, ‘woah,’ ‘turn,’ and the horse would go back and do everything as if I was doing it. But I guess I was just going along for the ride. I couldn’t hardly believe it.”

The Killen farm has raised all sorts of animals throughout its 100 years of operation. They raised horses, cattle, pigs and chickens.

In that spirit, Killen says he’s experimented with new techniques, including a one-time mistake that is now revered as state-of-the-art: No-till farming.

When Killen was growing up, not working the land was unheard of. Every farmer plowed a foot deep, but one year, Killen didn’t have time to work all of his land so he decided to just plant the last section and see what would happen.

The crop sprouted from the ground and Killen said you’d never have noticed the difference. One of his neighbors who went to Purdue ended up telling her professors about Killen’s experiment and next thing he knew, he had visitors in his fields.

“I look at that white truck and I thought, ‘what is that setting there for’,” Killen said. “It was a road that wasn’t used much. I went back there and it said ‘PU’ on it. Pretty soon, two men came out in the field and started checking it. They ripped open the corn, counted the rows and the length of them and compared them to others and that was the start of it.”

Next thing he knew, Purdue professors were holding a meeting in his field. They were fascinated at how Killen would rotate his crop from corn to soybeans and plant the soybeans straight into the ground where the dead stalks still stood.

“Nobody plows anymore,” Killen said. “You just rip the soil and plant.”

It was his ingenuity and perseverance that kept their farm running, his children said.

In order to receive a centennial award, a farm must be more than 20 acres large, produce more than $1,000 worth of products and be operational and in the family for at least 100 consecutive years, according to an Indiana State Department of Agriculture rules.

Since the program began in 1976, more than 5,000 families have received the award. ISDA Director Bruce Kettler says the families inducted are a testament to Indiana’s unique history.

“For more than a century, these farming families have been providing Hoosiers and Americans with the food, fuel and fiber they need for their everyday lives,” Kettler said in a statement. “Each generation has learned to adapt and evaluate how to keep their farm successful with changing times and technology. It was an honor to celebrate them at the Statehouse.”

The Killen farm is no exception.