‘It’s very much in our blood’: farming for one century

KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WBAY) -- As State Fair season kicks off, people from across Wisconsin are flocking to the fairgrounds, hoping to enjoy family time and tradition.

But for one Northeast Wisconsin family, the trip to the fair is for an entirely different tradition.

“It’s an honor. It’s definitely a big achievement, because you see so many farms that after a generation or two just fizzle out, and nobody wants to take it over and keep the operation going,” says Nick Van Wychen, of Van Wychen Farms.

Van Wychen Farms is one of 123 Wisconsin farms to be awarded the Century Farm Award this year. 54 others are receiving the Sesquicentennial Farm & Home Award, meaning they have farmed the same land for 150 years.

Today, Van Wychen Farms covers 2,400 acres, nestled in the Town of Kaukauna between Freedom and Wrightstown. It’s been that way since January 6, 1917.

“My great-grandfather bought this piece of property that we're standing on today,” Nick Van Wychen explains.

After immigrating from Holland, Henry Van Wychen started the family’s dairy farm. Since then, it has carried on through the generations.

“I am fourth [generation], she would be fifth [generation],” says Nick Van Wychen, of his 1-year-old daughter, Hayden.

Since Van Wychen Farms was founded 101 years ago, the land has seen a lot of changes.

“My dad always said, he says, 'You're never going to see as much change in agriculture as what I've seen.' But that's not true. Because you're seeing it already,” says George Van Wychen, a third generation Van Wychen farmer.

The family eventually moved on from dairy farming with horses, onto cash crops tended by tractors.

“[My grandfather] has seen the transition from horse to tractors. And oxen, to tractors. And dad would always tell me, he’s like, ‘Yeah. But I’ve seen tractors drive themselves,’” Nick explains.

At times, the family battled both highs and lows – like the barn fire that destroyed a cattle herd of 95.

“There were times, definitely, over the years where things got pretty tough,” Nick admits.

He says the end result makes it all worthwhile.

“You get done in the springtime, and you're watching all the crops that you planted coming out of the ground. It's like watching your kids being born,” Nick tells Action 2 News.

As a fourth generation farmer, Nick says he was born to carry on the family’s legacy.

“It was just something in me, something…. I love taking care of the land. I love being a part of farming,” he says.

Nick hopes daughter Hayden can carry on the family farm, to 150 years.

“If I had to guess, this one, [Hayden]. This one really likes riding in the tractors. Is very cool, calm and collected in the tractors. The other one [Aubree] gets pretty bored,” he says. “I'd love to be 150. That'd be amazing, if somebody would help me out and get to 150.”

Since the State Fair began awarding the Century Farm award in 1948, 9,344 farms in Wisconsin have been honored. Since it began honoring Sesquicentennial Farm & Home Award in 1889, 836 farms have been honored.