Billie Strange Ford acknowledges that the statewide recognition her family received this spring for keeping their farm in continuous agricultural operation for more than a century is significant, but she’s not sure how many more generations can be sustained on the farm.
“I hope so,” the Brookesmith resident said last week when asked if it appeared younger family members would continue the tradition. “They enjoy it especially for the hunting. But sometimes there’s too much work to it.”
Clarence and Billie Ford were honored at the House Chamber of the Texas Capitol on April 4 as part of the Texas Land Heritage celebration. Over the past 33 years of the program administered by the Texas Agriculture Commission, several dozen Brown County families have been honored for having farms and ranches in continuous agricultural operation for a century or longer, but the Strange Family Farm was the only property recognized this year.
“There’s quite a lot of research involved in documenting it to receive the award,” Billie Ford said. “My daughter did it all,” referring to Gaynell Williams, who lives in the Houston area.
“For more than a century these families have made agriculture a way of life, establishing Texas as a nationwide leader in an ever-demanding agricultural industry,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. “It’s because of their unwavering dedication that Texas agriculture is the $100 billion powerhouse it is today.
“Your ancestors dreamed of owning land and building a better life. They survived frontier life and hardships with courage and ingenuity. You are the living proof they succeeded. You make their dream live today… Congratulations. You have joined a special group. You are not just the families who made Texas; you are the families who made Texas great. For that we honor you. And for that, all Texans salute you.”
To date, more than 4,300 Texas farms and ranches in 233 counties have been recognized by the Family Land Heritage Program. The Strange family ranch was one of 102 recognized this year.
“It was a real nice ceremony,” Billie Ford said of the Austin event. “The auditorium was full of people, and we had all the family present.”
Over the past century since the ranch was founded by Billie Ford’s grandparents, it has produced “all different kinds of grasses — hay, corn and milo, plus some cotton,” Billie Ford said.
The Fords, who don’t live on the property, have operated the Strange Family Farm 4.5 miles west of Bangs on County Road 163 for more than 20 years.
Its founders, Dee and Genie Strange, acquired title to the land on March 13, 1905, in the J.E. Melton land grant from then-Gov. Richard Coke. In 1923, Olin and Jewell Strange took ownership of the land from his father, Dee. In 1985, ownership was taken over by Clarence and Billie Strange Ford.
At the Land Heritage ceremony, the Fords were joined by their children, Royce and Susan Ford, and Leland and Gaynell Ford Williams; their grandchildren, Melissa Ford, Stephen Williams, Kimberly Williams Beaver and Sherry Williams; and their great-grandchildren, Bailey and Jarret Williams.
Gov. Rick Perry, a former state agriculture commissioner, offered a welcome as the ceremony opened.
“A rich agricultural heritage has been, and will always be, a pillar of pride for our great state,” Perry said. “It is with great pleasure that we celebrate the families whose lineage is as deeply rooted in our soil as it is in Texas history.”
Red Steagall, Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame singer and poet, entertained.
The Fords were also congratulated by state Sen. Troy Fraser.