AgProud: Family Roots in Agriculture

There is so much more to agriculture than simply farming. I plan to feature individuals who play a part in that as I continue this week with my month-long series highlighting the diversity of Agriculture. Today we hear from Daren Williams with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Daren did a little digging to find his family roots in agriculture and is excited to share them with us today. Why are YOU Agriculture Proud?

I am ag proud because my roots are buried deep in agriculture. My great-great-grandfather Americus Vespucious Angell left North Carolina in the 1884 and headed west with his wife and two young sons, making their way by boat up the Mighty Mo to Kansas City. In the spring of 1886 they left Wesport by wagon traveling down the Sante Fe trail to the first available land, settling near what is now Plains, Kansas. There he built a sod house, tilled the soil, and “pinned his faith to corn, cane and millet, but after much experiment made wheat his principal crop and from that has reaped his chief reward as a farmer. He was also in the live stock business, and that year in and year out was perhaps the chief source of profit. Cattle required less trouble also than grain crops.”

I was born about 15 miles from the family homestead but I did not grow up on the farm. My family moved away from Plains when I was three. I grew up in the big city of Topeka then moved to the bigger city of Washington, D.C. when I was 16 (when my dad went to work for Sen. Bob Dole on the Senate Ag Committee). Although I am one generation removed from the farm I have been able to stay connected to my roots through my career in ag communications by sharing the story of American agriculture.

My great-grandfather Charlie John Angell (better known as C.J.) and his son Francis (my grandpa) tilled, planted, and harvested wheat in western Kansas from the 1890s when it took 40-50 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat on five acres to the 1960s when it only required five labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat on about three and one-third acres. They worked every year to increase the productivity of the land through innovation and American ingenuity.

C.J. was an entrepreneur and inventor who had a major impact on agriculture in the plains region. In the late 1920s he invented the Angell One-Way Disc Plow, producing more than 500 of the plows on his farm before he was accidentally electrocuted in his home in 1927 at the age of 45.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, “Angell sought to develop a plow that was particularly suited to the environmental conditions in the windy, semi-arid plains of western Kansas where he lived and farmed…It became known as the one-way disc plow because its vertical discs were mounted on the same axle and, therefore, they moved the soil one way. Angell’s plow became the first minimum tillage implement to successfully practice the dryland farming technique of stubble mulching.”

My great-grandfather C.J. Angell out standing in his wheat (dig the hat and tie!).

My great-grandfather’s plow helped Kansas become the leading wheat-producing state in the nation. But even then, progress did not come without controversy. Apparently some people blamed the one-way disc plow for being too efficient, saying “It worked so well that some people believe it contributed to the Dust Bowl.” I find this ironic because my great-grandfather invented the one-way disc plow to adapt to the lack of moisture in western Kansas. By tilling the soil rather than completely turning it over and burying the wheat stubble, the Angell One-Way “helped conserve precious moisture and reduced erosion of the soil by wind and water.

My grandfather farmed with the plow throughout the 1930s not only surviving, but thriving, during the dust bowl. He and his sister donated a restored Angell One-Way plow to the Smithsonian Institution in 1968. I have never seen it on display but understand less than 2 percent of the Smithsonian collection is on display at any one time.

I am proud of my agricultural heritage and to help tell the story of today’s farmers and ranchers who carry on the legacy of innovation and American ingenuity embodied in the Angell One-Way plow. I am proud to advocate for the future of farming and ranching in America, rooted in the past but grounded in the reality that we must continue to find better ways to raise more food with fewer resources to feed a growing population.

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Daren can be found online at his blog and on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share my family history in agriculture, Ryan. I enjoyed researching and writing this and even learned something new about my family heritage. I never knew my great, great grandfather was a cattleman! Knew there had to be some beef in my blood somewhere 🙂

    Daren

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. It’s amazing what you can find with a quick Google search, especially if your great, great grandfather has a name like Americus Vespucious Angell. Apparently he was named after the man our country is named after, Americus Vespucious (aka Amerigo Vespuci), although I don’t believe there is any relation. For more on the man who discovered America before Columbus staked his claim, see…

    http://www.sonofthesouth.net/revolutionary-war/explorers/americus-vespucius.htm

  3. What an amazing story. My family did the same thing about 20 years prior, coming from Virginia and taking the Santa Fe trail to central Kansas and homesteaded there in a little town called Little River in Rice county. Below is an article that was written a few months ago celebrating the 150 year anniversary of the homestead act and talking about my family. Pictured is my uncle and his cousin. The original home site is actually mine which is really special to me. http://harvestpublicmedia.org/article/1301/lasting-heritage-homestead-act/5

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