UNION MILLS | When Gerald Werner's great-grandfather settled in the rich farm country of Indiana from his native Germany, he planted the seeds of a heritage that continues to bear fruit.
Werner and his LaPorte County farm were recently one of 50 families recognized across the state by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann with the Hoosier Homestead Award.
In 1898, William F. Werner, Werner's grandfather, bought 100 acres on which to begin his life in a new country.
That humble beginning has since grown to 900 acres planted in corn, soybeans, winter wheat and seed corn for Monsanto in rural Union Mills.
"Back then, you did everything. You planted, had pigs, cows and a few chickens," Werner said.
Over the years, more farmland was acquired and the farm's focus changed.
"When my father was a child in the 1920s, they did eggs for a hatchery," he said.
So much has changed in the intervening years.
"I've seen land values go up times 10. It's not like you're ever going to sell it, but ..." Werner said. "Technology has also made things so different."
Werner, 56, has farmed since 1975.
"It was just our life," he said of his choice to remain on the farm. He said he's in the midst now of establishing the farm as Werner Heritage LLC.
"People say farming is a lifestyle, but it's a business. If you live it as a lifestyle, you won't be in business very long," Werner said. "Farmers have a saying: 'Live meager, die rich.'"
That's a philosophy he's taught his son, Adam, who farms with him now and is poised to continue the homestead for another generation.
"It's amazing. Over 4,000 of these awards have been given in Indiana. People grab onto the heritage, and want it to last. I hope it continues," Werner said.
Since 1976, more than 4,300 families have been recognized with Hoosier Homestead Awards.
To be named a Hoosier Homestead, farms must be owned by the same family for more than 100 consecutive years. They must also consist of 20 acres or more or produce at least $1,000 worth of agricultural products per year. The award was created to recognize the contributions these family farms have made to the economic, cultural and social advancements of Indiana.
This year, one Hoosier farm was honored with the Bicentennial Award for keeping the farm in the family for more than 200 years. The Sesquicentennial Award for more than 150 years was given 22 family farms.
In addition to the Werner farm, 26 others, including two Jasper County farms, were honored with the Centennial Award.
They are the Ephraim Gilmore Farm in Monon and the William E. Moore Farm in Rensselaer.