In 1792, nine years before Thomas Jefferson was elected president, Joseph LaPlante moved to a farm in New Madrid County, Missouri.
More than 200 years later, this family farm is still in the hands of the LaPlante family.
Few of the Missouri farms have remained in the same family for generations, but this year the oldest were identified as part of the state’s bicentennial.
Now called Missouri Founding Farms, only 30 across the state have operated continuously under one family since before coming to the state in 1821.
The Missouri Farm Bureau has partnered with MU Extension and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to locate family farms that have operated continuously for at least 200 years.
They combed through the archives of 10,000-century farms – those owned by the same family for 100 years – to find these very rare bicentennial farms.
None are in Boone County, but the closest are two in Moniteau County, one in Cole County, another in Gasconade County, and a fifth in Miller County.
Flint Hill Farm
Ruth Campbell’s organic farm, Flint Hill Farm south of Russellville, is one of them.
At the foot of the property is the Campbell family cemetery where the ancestors of Ruth Campbell are buried, including the original owner James Campbell. He received a plot of land after his military service and came with his second wife to establish the farm in 1823.
Ruth Campbell now runs the homestead where she breeds heirloom cattle: American Milking Devon cattle, Wessex Saddleback hogs and Cotswold sheep. She practices selective breeding, known as breeding.
“I want animals that can survive without too much care,” she said.
The farm allows her to be completely self-sufficient, although its remote location means that she spends many days on her own. She doesn’t seem to care. After divorcing and quitting a job in tech, she moved from St. Louis to take over the farm in 1992.
The original Campbell family home still stands, and is now undergoing the long process of restoration. His brother, Bill Campbell, describes his lifestyle as off the grid.
She says she got this independent nature from her father: “We both loved animals, and we were both quiet people.
“My dad was very mechanically inclined. We could go to the state fair and look at the new machines. He would study them and then come home and build these things for himself.”
She said her parents took good care of her, her brother and her two sisters.
“They were stingy, but there was always money to buy musical instruments or books,” she said. “They were big on education.”
The Campbell girls were the ones who were kept on a leash.
“Girls had to wear dresses,” said Ruth Campbell. “My dad didn’t believe in pants.”
Although she was not living on the farm when her mother died, she received a share of it.
“I had arranged my life so that I would never come home,” she said.
But she wanted to make sure the farm was well maintained, so she returned to Russellville.
When she came back to run the farm she said it was like she had never left. But it was difficult to maintain and improve it.
“I had to start from scratch,” she said. “With various finances it was really difficult. I almost lost it.”
Today, she is worried about climate change and its effects on the future of the property.
“Growing up, I don’t remember summers having been this hot,” she said.
Since pigs do not sweat, she has to spray them with water to cool them several times a day.
“That’s why I can’t take a vacation,” she added, laughing.
The Family Clay Farm
Another founding Missouri farm is located just west of the Missouri River near Jamestown in a lush green area where a cell phone signal is hard to find.
Jeremiah Clay arrived there in 1816 to establish a trading post. Eight generations of the Clay family have since made it their home.
Inside the office, a glass display case is filled with rows of dusty antiques and family memorabilia. There is the framed land grant certificate signed by John Quincy Adams, a violin in a velvet-lined case, a leaflet from the Lupus Street Fair in 1914, and an old wall telephone.
“Do you want to know what our phone number was? Two long and one short,” said John Clay of the way ringtones were assigned to users.
John’s son Andrew runs the day-to-day operations of the farm, including the maintenance of the corn and soybean fields. But John Clay has worked on the farm since childhood, starting as an accountant.
He remembered how his father and uncles worked long, hard hours, ate huge lunches, and found shade trees for afternoon naps. After college, he decided to give up his dream of teaching and running the farm.
“I was the only Clay left in the family, and I didn’t know if I was cursed or blessed,” he said.
He bought more land and started the Jamestown Agri Service, a farm supply store.
“My dad thought we should downsize, and I realized it would be really bad for business,” he said.
The ability to evolve and diversify has been instrumental in the Clay’s ability to stay on the family farm all these years.
“We are seeing more rapid change and we are aware of it through communication,” said John Clay.
He gave a great example: After graduating from college, he was given a Texas Instruments pocket calculator that didn’t even fit in his pocket.
“Now our machines are driving themselves,” he said.