Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward inducted 40 Arkansas farms into the Arkansas Century Farm Program at the State Capitol on Friday, October 27, 2017. The Arkansas Century Farm Program recognizes Arkansas farms of 10 acres or more owned by the same family for at least a century.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department began the Century Farm program in 2012 as a way to highlight the contributions of these families to the agriculture industry well as their overall contributions to our state.   Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, contributing more than $20 billion to the state’s economy annually and providing one in every six jobs in the state.  Arkansas consistently ranks in the top 25 nationally in the production of 23 agricultural commodities.

“Through obstacles and challenges you have maintained your commitment to your farm and to your family.  When families are strong, our communities are strong, and our state is strong” said Governor Hutchinson to the Century Farm Families.

Including new inductees, 376 farms are currently recognized as Arkansas Century Farms. The 40 newly inducted Century Farms are located in the following 27 counties: Arkansas, Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Columbia, Craighead, Drew, Faulkner, Franklin, Greene, Independence, Jackson, Jefferson, Little River, Logan, Lonoke, Marion, Montgomery, Newton/Searcy, Pope, Prairie, Sebastian, Sharp, Stone, Union, White, and Woodruff.

Cleburne County’s Century Farm belongs to Kirby and Melinda Martin of KirbyMel Farms told The Sun Times that in 1905 his grandfather, A.C. Swaffar farmed oats, and hay and raised cattle. After his passing, Martin’s parents Ray and Faye Martin moved up from Little Rock to the farm. Martin began riding a tractor around age seven. He always knew he wanted to do something with the land. In 2012 they moved to the three acre homestead and named it KirbyMel Farms. They started out with apples and pears. They got involved with Commercial Fruit Growers and at a meeting with them they met John Clark, of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, who according to Martin is the man to know when it comes to growing thornless blackberries. After discussions with Clark they started to grow thornless blackberries. In 2013, they began growing thornless blackberries. They grow three varieties that are Indian names Natchez, Ouachita and Osage (which are a smaller blackberry). They now have 800 feet of thornless blackberries. They also grow blueberries, muscadines, five varieties of figs and last year began working with honeybees.

“I have a wonderful wife who allowed me to pursue my dream of doing something with the land.” He retired last year after 26 years with the Arkansas Baptist State Commission. Martin’s wife says he hasn’t retired, he has been repurposed.

They have a home in Little Rock where they take care of their aging parents, and the farm at 450 Pearson Road.

He says he is not totally organic but he is doing as much as is humanly possible to be as organic as possible. He gets to keep their two and a half year old grandson two days a week and the grandson can be seen picking and eating berries on those days, so it is obvious Martin produces as healthy of a product as possible.

“The Lord has really opened things up for us,” Martin says when discussing some of the customers he has. The Root Cafe in Little Rock recently purchased 56 quarts of blackberry juice to make their blackberry lemonade, in addition to the other products they buy from them. They also sell to South on Main in Little Rock. In Cleburne County, Janssens on the Lake and Chuck’s Diner and Steakhouse are some of their customers. They also sell from their carport to Heber Springs and Quitman residents, among others, especially those who live on the west side of the lake. It is on an honor system says Martin and it works well.

What he really likes from being selected as a Century Farm is that they have met so many really nice people. They are the only 2017 Century Farm Inductee from Cleburne County.

“I am a blessed man,” says Martin.

Applications for the 2018 Century Farm Inductees will open in February, 2018.  For questions about the Arkansas Century Farm program, contact Mary Elizabeth Lea at maryelizabeth.lea@aad.ar.gov.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department is dedicated to the development and implementation of policies and programs for Arkansas agriculture and forestry to keep its farmers and ranchers competitive in national and international markets while ensuring safe food, fiber, and forest products for the citizens of the state and nation. Visit aad.arkansas.gov.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an Equal Opportunity Employer.