News - McHenry County

Centennial Farm: 100-plus years of family farming in Richmond area

Jacobson Farm part of a blended family legacy, ran by stepgrandson now

Farmer Bryon Kelly and his son, Rich, 2, move a tractor Friday, June 10, 2022, on the Jacobson farm near Richmond. Kelly inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.

Bryon Kelly has been a part of the Jacobson farm since he was a baby. He’s known since he was four years old that running it would be part of his legacy.

Kelly is 28 now. The Richmond-area farm is 115 years old. In April, the Illinois Department of Agriculture recognized Kelly and his farm predecessors with a Centennial Farm designation.

The agricultural program recognizes farming operations remaining in the same family for 100, 150 and 200 years, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The family receives a certificate, outdoor signage for display, and recognition on Agriculture Day during the Illinois State Fair.

“This designation not only honors their farm operation today, but also their ancestors who labored through adversity to maintain the family farm,” state Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II wrote in Kelly’s acceptance letter. “The Centennial Farm program helps to reinforce that family farming remains a viable entity in Illinois agriculture.”

To receive the honor, the farm must be operated by a straight or collateral descendent line throughout that time. Kelly is a collateral descendent by marriage.

Destiny West, far left; Raylee Kelly, 4; Rich Kelly, 2; Bryon Kelly; and Richard Jacobson on Friday, June 10, 2022, at the Jacobson farm near Richmond. Bryon Kelly inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.

Kelly remembers a conversation his stepgrandfather, Richard Jacobson, had in the late 1990s while he was at the farm. Someone there asked Jacobson what his plan was to keep the operation running after he was gone.

“He pointed to me, at four years old, and said, ‘He is going to run it,’” Kelly remembers. “It is all I ever wanted to do.”

Jacobson, now 88, said he knew when Kelly was just 2 years old that he’d take over the family farm someday. “He grew up right here on the farm” from the time he was a baby and they watched him while his parents worked, Jacobson said.

Based on how interested his great-grandson by marriage, now also 2 years old and named after him, is in the farm, he will probably take over after Kelly, Jacobson said.

“That little guy can tell you how to run a combine” and direct Kelly and him on other machinery, Jacobson said. “It will stay a Jacobson farm forever.”

Jacobson said his grandparents bought the McHenry County farm in 1907 after immigrating from Sweden in the 1880s.

Destiny West watches as her daughter, Raylee Kelly, 4, feeds the cattle Friday, June 10, 2022, on the Jacobson farm near Richmond. West's fiance, Bryon Kelly, inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.

Kelly’s maternal grandmother, Arlene Jacobson, grew up in Chicago, married and moved to Fox Lake with her then-husband. The couple later divorced, and his grandmother started waiting tables at a restaurant. Widowed a few years earlier, Jacobson ate there every day and, according to family lore, proposed to her three times before she said yes.

“She never wanted to marry a farmer,” Kelly said of her resistance.

But once the blended family came together and he began visiting the farm, he knew it would be his future, Kelly said. Like Jacobson, he hopes his children, now ages 2 and 4, will carry on that legacy.

His fiancee, Destiny West, also helps Kelly run the operation now. They are farming just shy of 400 acres, down from a high point of 1,000 acres.

“I unfortunately had to watch some of the ground sell and the rented land go to younger guys who offered more money” on the rented acreage, Kelly said.

Farmer Bryon Kelly watches as his children, Raylee, 4, and Rich, 2, push open a barn door Friday, June 10, 2022, while feeding their cattle on the Jacobson farm near Richmond. Kelly inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.

At one point they also had a 100-head herd of beef cattle, but Kelly also wanted to be able to have time with his own children. “I would like to be able to take them camping” and have other family activities that caring for cattle precludes. So he sold them off.

Then, a few Christmases ago, a friend gifted two calves to his children. They are back up to 12 cattle they sell off for beef from time to time, he said.

He’s slowly working on picking up more rental land to get the operation back to where it was when he was younger, “so my kids can enjoy it the way I did,” Kelly said.

He works off the farm as well to help pay the bills. Five days a week, he is a mechanic for milk tanker trucks. Once the trucks are ready for the day, he goes back to the farm. West quit working off the farm to help keep things running and care for their family.

Kelly said it’s important to keep the farm in the family to continue the tradition.

Raylee Kelly, 4, covers her eyes as he helps her dad, Bryon Kelly clean the baler Friday, June 10, 2022, on the Jacobson farm near Richmond. Kelly inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.

Another 32 McHenry County farmers also have received the centennial designation, including five sesquicentennial farms, run by the same family for 150 years, according to state records. Statewide, there are 12 bicentennial farms.

Richard Jacobson still helps on the farm every day, Kelly said.

“I run the grain cart, he runs the combine” during harvest, Jacobson said. “Now that we are haying, I will run the bailer or whatever need to be done.”

They know farming is a hard life, noting that he has seen the same inflationary pressures on his farm income as others in the county have, Kelly said. But he doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

Every night when he goes to sleep, Kelly said he wonders about why he decided to take over the farm and try to keep it for the next generation. He knows his own answer.

“Because, there is no better feeling in the world,” he said.

Farmer Bryon Kelly watches as his son, Rich, 2, carries a bucket of feed Friday, June 10, 2022, while feeding their cattle on the Jacobson farm near Richmond. Kelly inherited the century-old farm from his step-grandfather Richard Jacobson.