Chances are good that George Fredrich Kern would approve of the way things turned out on the family farm and ranch he founded more than a century ago.
It’s still a family farm, and there are Kerns at the controls.
“It just sort of happened,” said Larry Kern, 70.
George Fredrich was his grandfather. He was born to a Lutheran minister in Peoria, Illinois. Married to Lena Gronewig in 1892, they moved to Kansas and homesteaded 15 miles south of Colby. Four of their children were born there.
After a prairie fire that they avoided by jumping into a water tank, they sold the farm in September 1899 and moved to Portland, Oregon, where George’s father lived. After a short stay, they moved to Minnesota. They sold a farm there in 1910 and moved to Bavaria during March 1911.
The original farm covered 80 acres.
Larry’s father, George John Kern, came home to the farm and added to its size, said Barbara Kern, Larry’s wife, reading from a written history. George John’s brother, Richard Kern, farmed separately in the area. A third brother, Albert, had polio and died young.
Then came Larry, who left home and completed an agricultural economics degree in 1967 at Kansas State University. His sister, Barbara McCormac, lives in Arizona.
For Larry, returning to western Saline County was never in question.
“I always came back to farm on the weekends,” Larry said. “It was something I was going to do. I was married and didn’t have a job.”
Barbara grew up in Salina. They raised a son, Jason, and a daughter, Nikki, 38. A K-State graduate, she is currently an inactive certified public accountant who is staying home with her son.
Following Dad’s lead
Firstborn Jason, 39, graduated from Salina Central High School in 1993 and followed a path similar to that of his father, completing a degree in animal science and business at K-State in 1997.
“There was no doubt I was going to come back,” Jason said.
It was his decision.
“I had an opportunity to farm some land, and that played a major role. It went well,” he said. “In hindsight, the love of it is what brought me back.”
The move pleased his father.
“You always want your kids to step into your shoes someday,” he said. “Plus, I needed help and (Jason) could supply labor.”
‘It’s not all roses’
With a volatile farm economy, inconsistent weather and the capital requirements, there are always concerns on the farm, Jason said.
“It’s not all roses. There are lots of things to overcome. You have to be dedicated, work hard, take the downs with the ups and vice versa,” he said. “You just have to take it day by day, but also you need long-term goals.”
The farming family tree has three more branches.
Jason and his wife, Kristi, a veterinarian, have two sons – Kelton, 11, and Marcus, 8. Nikki’s son, Petros, is 3.
Passing it on
“It’s in the back of my mind to pass it on,” Jason said.
The boys are feeding bucket calves and they use an all-terrain vehicle to do chores, but soon they will be given the opportunity to learn more about farming.
“I would hope one of them would express some desire to come back,” Larry Kern said. “Hopefully that will work out.”
The boys are young and have plenty of time to decide, Jason said.
“I would hope they would at least carry on some of it. I would like to see them keep the land,” he said.
Agricultural education in Saline County goes far beyond on-the-job training, Jason said.
“We are blessed with good ag teachers in Saline County,” he said. “FFA is kind of where it starts.”
As for carrying on the family farm tradition, Jason said he’s all for it.
“Farming is not the easiest job in the world,” he said. “But I think everybody wants to see the farm passed on.”
Tim Unruh is a veteran agricultural journalist with the Salina Journal. He grew up on a diversified farm near Deerfield, the son of a grain elevator manager and a schoolteacher. Email: email@example.com.