Legacy farm: Lt. Gov. Crouch honors Vigo family for years working the land

·4 min read

Sep. 20—Free roaming bison, elk and deer greeted Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch when she visited the F.L. Wilson Heritage Farm in southern Vigo County last week.

But while the animals themselves were not particularly talkative, Fred and Brenda Wilson eagerly shared the story of the agricultural operation that has been in the Wilson family since 1816.

"We talked about how it's a struggle from time to time to stay in farming, and we talked about the tradition of farming," Fred Wilson said of the hour-long visit with Crouch. "We feel pretty privileged to be still cranking it out."

The family farm legacy keeps the Wilsons on their property, located near the Wabash River on about 2,600 acres, with about 2,100 acres in cash crops of corn, wheat and soybeans.

Fred Wilson is the sixth generation on the farm, with his son Fred III, grandson Travis and great-grandson Tate also in line to extend the family legacy.

As the lieutenant governor, Crouch oversees the state's department of agriculture, and has visited many farms around the state.

During her visit Thursday, Crouch hesitated only a moment before she accepted an invitation to drive a combine on the property, with direction from Fred Wilson III.

"I told her that my mother always said, 'Can't never did anything.' So she said she'd do it, and our son Fred gave her a couple of quick lessons," Brenda said of the combine ride. "She made a couple of quick passes and said it was a lot of fun."

Another high point of the visit was a walk with Crouch across a covered bridge built a few years ago by the Wilson Family.

"It was an amazing experience and the lieutenant governor is the most genuine, nicest, kindest person you ever want to meet," Brenda said. "She was very knowledgeable too, just was wonderful."

The Wilsons explained that they built the bridge using wood reclaimed from an old barn on the property of the late Vernon Harlan.

"We built that covered bridge simply because Vigo County's last covered bridge down at Fowler Park was caving in." Fred Wilson said.

That bridge at the park was restored a few years ago, but it had long held a place in Wilson's heart from his childhood days when and friends would ride bikes to the Cox bridge before it was moved to Fowler Park.

"We thought it was so special," Fred said of the old bridge.

Brenda said she and Fred also like to visit covered bridges in Parke County, so when the wood from the Harlan barn became available, it seem like a good time to build their own covered bridge.

The barn had been built in 1867, Fred said, and the trees used in its construction were probably about 50 years old at the time. In taking it apart, they found wooden pegs and square nails, and they were glad to re-use the wood for the covered bridge project.

"My husband is a pretty amazing guy," Brenda said, "and that's just one of the amazing things he has built on this farm."

They named the new structure the Wilson-Harlan Bridge.

Thirteen farms in Indiana have been certified as being run continuously by the same family for more than 200 years. The Wilsons believe they rank near the top three among those 13 farms.

One of the reasons they stay on the farm is the serenity of the place.

"It's a slower pace of life," Brenda said of farm living.

Farming has not always been the couple's livelihood or main occupations. They have developed property, own an excavating company and Brenda is on the Vigo County Council while Fred serves on the county plan commission.

Wilson said he did not grow up on the farm. His father was a doctor in Terre Haute, but prior to medical school, he was a farmer. Later, Fred's uncle farmed the property, and after his uncle's death in 1974, Fred took over.

The property still has some of the old farm equipment used more than a century ago, and the Wilson's cherish some old photos that document the early generations working the land.

The Wilsons are proud to continue the farming tradition in their family, and in Vigo County.

"Farming is the thing that built this nation," Fred said. "Food is a pretty integral part of it, and you never want to take it for granted. It's important to remember America's farm heritage."

And while the couple were honored by Crouch's visit, they remain humble as managers of the earth.

"It's not about us," Fred said. "It's about honoring all the thousands of farmers and ranchers who have put in the toil and sweat to build this nation."

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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