A local family has been farming in Franklin County for centuries. The family’s years of dedication to agriculture was recently recognized by the K-State Research and Extension office and Kansas Farmer magazine.
Doug and Jean Higbie were honored as one of six couples in the 2017 class of Kansas Master Farmers and Master Farm Homemakers, according to a news release. The award is in recognition of their leadership in agriculture, environmental stewardship and service to their communities, the release said. The statewide award program is in its 91st year.
Doug Higbie said the award is special to his family.
“It is an amazing thing,” he said. “It is a prestigious thing. We have shared it with our children. We are proud to be a part of an elite group. We were pretty humbled and surprised that we actually received it.”
The Higbies have been out in front of attempting to teach students about agriculture and farming throughout their lives. Both volunteered for years for the 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs. Jean said her father started a 4-H program in Franklin County when she was a child.
“We are a four-generation 4-H family and a three-generation FFA family,” she said. “We believe in their programs and what they do for youth.”
The Higbies and the Williamsburg FFA chapter started the “Day on the Farm” to promote farming and farm products and hosted it on the family farm from 1985 to 2000. For 15 years, hundreds of Kansas City area third graders, teachers, and staff spent a day on the farm learning about the different sectors of agriculture.
Doug said the program was the brainchild of Lee Weis, the Williamsburg vo-ag teacher during the 1980s and 1990s.
“His idea was to bring third graders from the Kansas City area out to the farm and put on a program for them,” Doug said. “Show them what farming was all about. The reason for Kansas City third-graders was there were many of those children who had never been out of the city, never been off of pavement and had no exposure what so ever with farming and farm animals. We provided the location. The FFA chapter and Mr. Weis put on the program. That is how it all began.
It developed through the years. He thought at the time it was the first program of its kind in Kansas,” he said. “We don’t know for sure, if it wasn’t we were pioneers in that area. It was good for the third graders that came. It was great for the FFA members. They took part in the leadership, presentation and developing the courses they were going to teach. It was a great project for the FFA members.”
He said this award was just as much about the promotion of agricultural products as farming.
“We did a lot of [promotion],” Doug said. “We still do and our kids have carried on that too. Promotion of agricultural and ag products, familiarizing the community with farming, what farming is, what products are produced and all kinds of related things. That award had a lot to do with that.”
The couple is now retired from farming, giving way to their children. The Higbies own 1,200 acres of farm land in Franklin County.
The Higbies passed that love of agriculture to their four children: Heath, Aaron, Audra and Ryan. All are in the agricultural field in some way.
“A lot of that had to do with the experiences, training and teaching they got through and FFA and Mr. Weis as the advisor,” Doug said. “Besides growing up on the farm. They were exposed to it all their life. A lot of their decision to go into the agricultural field had a lot to do with that program and his leadership.”
Heath works for the Farm Bureau Financial Services in Montgomery County. Aaron owns Santa Fe Trail Custom Meat Processing Plant in Overbrook and manages his own farming operation. Ryan works for the Kansas Livestock Association and runs a farming and livestock production. Audra is in the educational field.
Jean said her and Doug are the 11th generation of farmers in the Higbie family, while the children are the 12th and grandchildren, the 13th generation.
“It is important for kids to know their roots and to know all our relatives served in the service as well as Doug so we can have a free county,” she said.