August 25, 2023

Historic Black farm recognized at Indiana State Fair

Anne Johnson-Bey and Elihu Johnson-Bey accepted the Hoosier Homestead Farm Centennial Award from the Indiana Department of Agriculture at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 16.  - Photo/Chloe McGowan

Anne Johnson-Bey and Elihu Johnson-Bey accepted the Hoosier Homestead Farm Centennial Award from the Indiana Department of Agriculture at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 16.

Photo/Chloe McGowan

The Johnson-Bey family was awarded the Hoosier Homestead Farm Centennial Award during the 166th Annual Indiana State Fair.

In a special ceremony on Aug. 16, the Indiana state Department of Agriculture recognized dozens of multi-generational family farms from around the state, including the Johnson-Bey farm — the only minority-owned farm in Bartholomew County and one of 134 minority-owned farms in the state. The award recognizes that the Johnson-Bey family has owned and operated their farm since 1900 and have made a “significant contribution to the heritage and economic development of the state.”

“Farmers back in the day had to work together and then … being minority farmers on top of it,” said Anne Johnson-Bey. “To be able to carry on your tradition in Indiana, we feel very honored to be here and accept this award.”

The Johnson-Bey family farm, which spans 132 acres in Bartholomew County in Hope, Indiana, was purchased by Ophelia and Reuben Johnson-Bey more than 100 years ago and passed down over four generations. 

Elihu Johnson-Bey, the grandson of Ophelia and Reuben Johnson-Bey, said it means everything to them to be recognized for keeping their grandparents’ dreams and legacy alive through the farm. When his grandparents first began farming the land, Elihu Johnson-Bey said they used horses to pull plows while caring for cows, pigs, chickens and ducks in addition to a garden they used to sustain their family. 

He said it is simply an honor to keep the land and farm it to continue the legacy of “two hardworking farmers that worked and farmed tirelessly, despite all obstacles they faced during that time, to establish land ownership and create a legacy for the generations to come,” — albeit now with updated equipment and tractors.

“This means everything to us to know that our grandparents — who purchased the land, and they did the farming at that time — they were great farmers,” Elihu Johnson-Bey said. “That was my grandfather’s and grandmother’s wishes. He always said, ‘Don’t take away and give it up’; he said, ‘Add to it, keep a hold of it because that’s the best way to live.’”

Beyond farming the land, Anne Johnson-Bey said one of the most important aspects of their family’s legacy is their faith. Anne Johnson-Bey said her great-grandparents joined the Moorish Science Temple of America in the 1930s, and many members of the family still practice that faith. 

“That is one of the biggest things we’ve held on to is that tradition [and] the culture,” Anne Johnson-Bey said. “All farmers in Indiana were hard workers. Being a minority also, obviously, there are extra challenges. So. just being brought up with that whole attitude of, ‘Keep going, no excuses. You keep working, Allah will bless you.’”

Currently, the only structure remaining from the original 1900 farm is the barn. Anne Johnson-Bey said the family’s farm committee — which is comprised of more than 25 people — is currently raising money through a GoFundMe to complete necessary repairs on the building and to clean up and restore areas around the property’s creek. 

The family said the barn was previously used to house barn dances and, if restored, would become a “great asset to the farm and community and a monument of gratitude to Ophelia and Reuben’s legacy.” For more information about the restoration project, visit https://gofund.me/ad00c6c4

 

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