August 04, 2021

Heritage farm

From Tapps to Ibbotsons, 150 years of farming in Ringgold County

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One hundred and fifty years ago in 1870, Alan Ibbotson’s great-grandparents settled on a farm in southern Iowa. The town of Tingley had not yet been established. Mount Ayr was five years away from its beginning and Creston was just getting started.

William and Grace Tapp had just emigrated from England to Canada, where they spent 10 months saving up to buy a team and travel to Iowa — Ringgold County, Iowa, in Jefferson Township. The Tapps raised livestock and specifically Percheron horses.

Grace was a trendsetter, owning the first sewing machine in the neighborhood and is reported to have been the first customer in the Tingley store when it opened.

Of William and Grace’s nine children, the youngest daughter was Minnie Tapp, who married Homer Ibbotson. Homer and Minnie moved to Shannon city but returned in 1938, bringing the Ibbotson name to the farm.

Loren Ibbotson, one of Homer and Minnie’s two children, farmed with his father until after serving in World War II. In 1944, he married Marjorie (Kerr) Ibbotson. They purchased the “Tapp” farm in 1960 and were still living there in 1976 when it was declared a century farm, having been in the same family for over 100 years.

Marjorie passed away in 2016 at the age of 101. Loren had died years earlier at 80. Marjorie’s death left the farm to her five children. Alan, the youngest had been living on the farm with his mother, taking care of it and her.

Alan purchased the four shares of the farm from his siblings and is still farming there with his wife Lois, having originally been deeded 15 acres from his mother in order to build a house.

By this point, the farm was down to around 520 acres from its largest size of 100 or so acres. Alan’s aunt Thelma Grimes, the second of Homer and Minnie’s children, owned a part of those 100 acres as well until her death at the age of 102, but the section where Marjorie lived included the original farm.

Alan remembers growing up on the farm working with his father doing manual labor, feeding the animals and putting up hay — small bales and then large round bales when Vermeer began making baling machines. A lot of things have changed since then, but Alan said even more changes would have happened in his father’s lifetime — moving from horse drawn labor to tractors.

Alan went to trade school for carpentry and masonry at Southwestern Community College, which he said he only used “helping a friend out once in a while. He continued to farm while attending SWCC and returned to it full-time when finished.

The Ibbotsons survived the farm crisis of the 1980s because they did not buy into the large tractors and equipment and incur the debt that fueled the downfall of many family farms.

In 2004, Alan married Lois, who brought with her two children: Pamela and Christina England. Lois did not grow up on a farm, but she considers herself a “farm girl” from the time she spent on her aunt and uncle’s farm.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to live in the city,” she said.

Pamela and Christina have since married and added six grandchildren to the mix. Pamela married Walter Brokaw in 2016 and between them they have four children: Treyton, 15, and Hayden Still, 10, and Aydan, 14, and Landyn Brokaw 12. Christina and Jeremy Sobotka married in 2013 and have two children, Kendall, 6, and Rhett, 3.

“Grandpa is a favorite for all of them,” Lois said. “He gives tractor rides and combine rides.  Even though Al did not have children of his own, my kids are our kids and Al has been a great dad and grandpa.”

In the early years, Alan and Lois did a lot of feeding cattle by the bucket. Lois said they would line up 20 to 30 buckets in the barn to carry out to the feeder troughs. After a few years, that gave way to self-feeding creep feeders — with pellet feed that included minerals instead of the buckets of corn. They also grew oats.

These days the Ibbotsons have around 100 head of cattle, raise seed soybeans for Syngenta and the oats they grow are for hay.

The future of the farm is not settled as none of the children have an interest in farming. Alan said it gets harder to farm as he gets older and with his work as a postal carrier, which he has done for 19 years, taking up so much of his time.

“But I can’t quite bring myself to quit,” he said. “I’ve always farmed.”

Lois said the farm will likely remain in the family as they have talked to the children about it and they would like to keep it, if possible.

At the moment, little Rhett loves to ride in the tractor, so he may one day grow up to be a farmer. But who knows?

“It’s hard to tell what he’ll like next year,” Alan said.