FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 23, 2007
CONTACT: Caneta Hankins, 615-898-2947
DYER COUNTY FARM JOINS RANKS OF STATE’S CENTURY FARMS PROGRAM
101-Year-Old Tom Bell Farm Recognized for Agricultural Contributions
(MURFREESBORO, Tenn.)—The Tom Bell Farm in Dyer County has been designated as a Tennessee Century Farm, reports Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms program at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP), which is located on the MTSU campus.
Robert Alexander “R. A” Bell Sr. founded the Tom Bell Farm, located eight miles southeast of Dyersburg, in March 1906, where he raised cotton, corn, cattle, horses and mules on 170 acres.
Married to Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Walker Bell, the couple had four children—Bettye Eleanor, Robert Alexander, Kathryn Elizabeth and Malcolm Edward. In 1909, R. A. died and Lizzie was left to rear the four children by herself. According to family, it was very difficult for Lizzie to make ends meet and at one point she sold 40 acres of timberland for additional income.
While rearing her children and managing the farm, Lizzie was also an accomplished equestrian and the first woman in the county to ride astride. At the 1910 Dyer County Fair she won first place for her riding abilities and received a silver trophy for her efforts, which the family still proudly displays, Hankins said.
Bettye and Kathyrn moved to Nashville, where Bettye became a librarian at the Nashville/Davidson County library and Kathryn worked at Vanderbilt University in the architectural department. Robert and Malcolm stayed in Dyer County and continued to farm the land. By the 1940s, the first Grade-A dairy was started on the farm and milking registered Holsteins became a way of life on the farm for the next 53 years.
In 1963, the four siblings became owners of the farm, but Malcolm eventually became the sole owner of the property. Malcolm wed Louella White and they had four children. Under his ownership, the farm produced Holstein and Jersey cattle, hogs, hay, cotton, row crops and corn. Over the years, Malcolm and his family participated in the Holstein cattle shows by exhibiting cattle in regional shows such as the Dyer County Show, Obion County Show, the Calloway County, Ky., show and the Mid-South Show in Memphis.
Per the family’s records, Malcolm had a heart attack, and with the oldest son in the Navy, Louella and her 6-year-old son, Tom, were left to do the milking. For the next 50 years, Tom did the milking and maintained the dairy. Tom was born, reared and has lived his entire life on the farm.
Throughout the years, Tom was been recognized for his farming and was Dyer County’s Outstanding Young Farmer in 1963 and runner-up for the Tennessee Young Farmer of the Year in 1965. Although he has seen many changes in farming over the years, he said he recognizes that “no-till farming” is the “only way to go.” He also has attended the Milan No-Till Day nearly every year.
In 1993, Tom Bell acquired one-half of the family farm, and in 2002, he obtained the remaining half. The Bells raised Holstein cattle until 1993 and still raise Red Angus cattle. In addition, the Bells cultivate cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. In addition to raising livestock and crops, they also “farm educate” the first-graders of all schools in the Dyersburg School System, according to CHP research. Notably, their daughter, Sandy Bell Baker, is the supervisor for Dyersburg City Schools and the primary facilitator and coordinator for the outreach program.
Today, Tom and wife Helen Claire Cherry Bell, as well as their children, Sandy and Joe Baker and their two children, Ashley Claire and Bradley Todd, and Tom Bell II and wife Stacy Naifeh, along with their sons, Jacob and Ethan, continue the tradition of enjoying the family farm and contributing to the community.
“The Bell family maintains the philosophy of ‘leave the land in better shape that you found it,’” Hankins observed.
The Century Farm Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have continuously owned, and kept in production, family land for at least 100 years. Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU has been a leader in the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farm Program, and continues to administer this program.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) began the Tennessee Century Farm Program in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial. Today the TDA provides a metal outdoor sign, noting either 100, 150 or 200 years of “continuous agricultural production” to Century Farm families.
To be considered for eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years; must produce $1,000 revenue annually; must have at least 10 acres of the original farm; and one owner must be a resident of Tennessee.
“The Century Farmers represent all the farm families of Tennessee,” Hankins said, “and their contributions to the economy, and to the social, cultural, and agrarian vitality of the state, both past and present, is immeasurable. Each farm is a Tennessee treasure.”
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit its Web site at http://histpres.mtsu.edu/histpres. The Center for Historic Preservation also may be contacted via mail at Box 80, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37132, or by telephone at 615-898-2947.
• ATTENTION, MEDIA: To interview Hankins or the farm’s owners, or obtain jpeg images of this farm for editorial use, please contact the CHP directly at 615-898-2947.