Two Bulloch County farms were selected recently to receive the prestigious Centennial Family Farm Award given annually by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
On Friday, the J. Leahmon Akins farm and the Garfield Hall farm will be recognized as farms that have been owned by members of the same family for 100 years or more that are not listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The award was established in 1993, and 359 farms across the state have been recognized since that time.
"It is important that we look at these farms in both economic terms and cultural terms," said Steven Moffson, Georgia Centennial Farm committee chair. "There was a time when all of the farms being recognized were important in sustaining their communities. Many had a store or a grist mill which served as the heart of a community."
James Garfield Hall's granddaughter Sandra Cummings remembers very well working in the store on her grandfather's farm. "We sold gasoline from Gulf Oil, and had a little store as well," she said. "My grandfather let us take turns operating the store and collecting the money. It was so great. We would sell a lot of what we harvested in the store from fruit to peanuts."
Bordering Highway 80 just east of Portal, Cummings said her grandfather purchased the 169 acre farm from his cousin R. D. Saturday for $3,980 in 1928. "It had been in the family since 1904 when Adolphus Saturday purchased the land from the J.W. Deal family," she said. "We are very proud that we have been able to keep it in the family all of these years."
Cummings said the land is no longer being farmed for row crops, but has been planted with trees.
"In 1972, we leased out the land for farming, because my grandfather had passed away a few years earlier, and there really wasn't anyone to farm it," she said. "During the time he was alive, it was a very productive farm. Now it is planted with pines."
Edwin Akins and his family also have been able to keep their ancestors farmland in the family. "My grandfather John Benjamin Akins began acquiring land in the eastern part of Bulloch County in 1908," Akins said. "He eventually owned as much as 2,100 acres. With the exception of 25 acres or so, that land remains in the Akins family."
Akins said he owns 289.3 acres that was left to him by his father, J. Leahmon Akins. "John Benjamin Akins had 10 children," he said. "Most of the land ended up with his four sons. My father was one of those sons."
Akins said he is very proud of what his grandfather was able to accomplish. "The community where he lived is called the Akins Community," he said. "My grandfather passed away in 1950 in his rocking chair on the front porch. He loved farming, and he loved his land. He passed that onto each of us."
Akins said a priority of his this past year was to get his family farm certified. "I love our family farm, and the history that comes with it," he said. "Just knowing what my grandfather and father did to preserve this land means a lot to me. It is my hope that it will stay in the Akins family, but you never know. Right now, I just enjoy riding on and looking at my land. I can just be on it, and not infringe on anyone else's rights. Also, I love going fishing there."
Cummings said she also fees a very special connection to the land that she used to harvest.
"Because my grandfather was such a big family man, he didn't like to leave anybody out of the fun or the work," she said. "We got out there and worked, from picking peanuts and cotton, to picking tobacco. It was hard work, but we loved it."
Cummings said her grandfather was unusual in that he paid her and her siblings and cousins to work.
"That was unusual at that time," she said. "But we got paid, and were fed very good suppers. Two of my favorite memories are catching fish out of the pond and having a big fish fry. The other was picking pecans, and then eating them."
Cummings owns the Garfield Hall farm with her cousin Gwen West. She said there are other relatives in the Ohio and Statesboro area who own adjoining properties as well. Cummings's mother Odessa Allen Hall has ownership in the Charleston/Allen farm in Morgan County which is also being honored at this Friday's ceremony.