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Future of Heritage Farm unknown

February 23, 2018
By KRISS NELSON - Farm News news editor ( , Farm News


ALTOONA - Urban sprawl could ultimately be the end of a family's Heritage Farm.

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Harold and Paula Silver said their family’s Heritage Farm’s status is unknown as urban sprawl is becoming more prominent in their area.

The Silver Land Company, owned by Harold and Paula Silver, Ken and Jean Silver, David Silver and Will Silver, is located just a few miles from the Altoona, Ankeny and Des Moines city limits. Harold Silver said he has watched, for most of his life, those cities' rapid expansion and fears it is only a matter of time before it will be their own farm.

Most recently, the family is seeing that kind of development in their neighborhood with Facebook's Altoona Data Center being constructed right across the road.

Because of this urban-type development creeping up on them, Silver said they aren't comfortable with making plans for the family's next generation.

"It's hard to say what's going to happen," he said. "We don't want to put restrictions on the next generation."

In the beginning

Silver said they are able to track the ownership of the farmland in the family as far back as 1860 when his great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Davis, purchased the land in Delaware Township in Polk County.

The family is unsure of what brought Davis to the area, but according to older plat maps, there were several Davises in the area at that time, so they are assuming he came to join other family members.

Silver said Davis didn't homestead the land, as he purchased it from the original owners just a few years after it was homesteaded.

Davis passed the farmland onto his daughter Eliza, who married Cyrus Thorton. They then passed the farm onto their daughter Laura, who married Ervin Silver.

Harold Silver said his great-grandparents, Laura and Ervin Silver, moved a corn crib up into the farmyard and converted it into a one-room house, which, over the years, was added on to room by room, piece by piece.

Laura and Ervin Silver had three children; two girls and one boy. Their son, Roy O. Silver and his wife, Winnie, were Harold Silver's grandparents.

Roy and Winnie Silver had already been farming when Ervin Silver fell from the haymow, eventually passing away due to the injuries sustained in the accident.

Laura Silver remained on the farm while Roy and Winnie took over the entire farming operation.

Harold Silver said he has memories of his grandfather, Roy O. Silver's, Belgian draft horses named Dan and Jim, as well as his grandfather's first tractor, either a 1937 or 1939 CC Case.

"I can remember playing and riding on it and how cold the steering wheel was in the winter," he said.

Silver said they lived in southern Iowa when he was younger, but would come to visit and spend a lot of time with his grandparents in the summer.

He has a lot of memories of going on long walks with his grandmother to the timber that surrounds the farm as well as a lot of time spent playing in the barn and helping to catch chickens.

"I would catch the chickens and pluck them," he said.

Silver also remembers livestock on the farm.

"There were cows, hogs and chickens for many years," he said.

Paula Silver said they found and displayed Roy O. Silver's old plow in their home. What was unique to the plow was, while they were cleaning it up, they became very curious as to what was covering the plow's handles. As they looked closer, she said they discovered it was the tin seals from Roy O. Silver's tobacco containers.

"He would press them into the handles of the plow," she said.

In 1960, Harold Silver said his grandmother, Winnie Silver, and her daughters wanted to sell the farm.

"Thankfully my parents were able to put enough money together to buy the farm," he said.

Roy W. and Louise Silver then became the fifth generation to own the farm. Harold Silver said at the time, his father worked off of the farm as a supervisor for John Deere and his mother was a teacher in Des Moines, who later retired as a principal.

It was that off of the farm income that allowed them to have the funding to be able to buy the farm.

"Dad didn't want to see it sold," Harold Silver said. "He wanted it to stay in the family."

Silver said he was 12 or 13 years old when they moved back to the farm and he began helping his father farm while attending school in Bondurant.

"I was always the farmer of the family," he said. "I helped my dad in the fields. My favorite memories are from being out in the field."

When Silver wasn't working, he would ride his horses with his neighborhood friend - a friend he ended up farming with later on in life.

Silver said his dad passed away in 1993.

"We had been farming together for years and it was when I started farming by myself is when I really became attached to the farm," he said. "Digging in the dirt that your great-great-great-grandfather worked in. It goes through your mind. I have that connection with my great-great-great-grandfather."

Silver continued to farm until he retired in 2016.

The Silver Land Company's farmland is now rented out, and Silver said he chose to use a crop share agreement.

"It allows me to remain an active part of my family's farm operation," he said.

He also chose that type of an agreement to ensure the family's conservation practices continue.

"My father was very conscious of water quality and served as president of the Iowa Rural Water Association," Silver said. "We have also been very conservation oriented."

The Silvers have most recently installed a saturated buffer and have 19 acres of pollinator ground.

The farm means a lot to the entire Silver family. Harold and Paula Silver said even the eighth generation of the family has been able to enjoy the farm.

"It means everything," said Silver. "Had it not meant everything to my dad, it would have been gone."



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