ARGYLE — Tommy Madewell rattles range cubes in a rusty tin pail that signals to his herd of cows that they’re in for a treat. The clanging of the pail slowly lures the salivating bulls away from the shadeof a tree where they were resting in a lush pasture.
“Don’t be afraid of these things because they’llcome right up to you,” Madewell says.
“Come on, girls.” Madewell calls out to his slow-moving herd. “Come on. Are y’all going to make me out a liar? Come say hello, girls.”
He feeds his herd the cubes, treats that are a change of pace from their normal grazing.
“They’re my1,000-pound babies,” he says as he feeds them by hand. “They’re expensive babies, but they’re my babies.”
Madewell, 72, has lived his entire life on the farm, just south of Denton and east of Argyle.
On Nov. 2, the Madewell family will be honored in Austin during the 38th annual Family Land Heritage Ceremony, presented by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
The ceremony honors families who have continuously operated a family-owned farm for at least 100 years.
To receive the honor, eligible farms and ranches must still be owned and operated by the descendants of the founder, either through blood, marriage or adoption.
And at least 10 acres of the land must have been in continuous agricultural production for the past 100 years or more.
With the help of his wife, Patricia, Madewell completed the application process required by the state to trace the farm’s history.
“It’s an honor to me, but it’s for my dad. Before he died, he had about 100 acres,” Madewell said. “He loved this land.”
To date, the state has recognized more than 4,700properties in 237 counties across Texas.
Every year, the department conducts a ceremony at the State Capitol to celebrate and commemorate the families who have passed down their legacy from generation to generation.
Twenty-two farms in Denton County, including Madewell’s farm, have been honored by the state in the past 40 years.
The first farm in the county to be honored was theH.E. Long Ranch in 1974. According to records, the farm, 25 miles northwest ofDenton, had been in operation since 1856.
Madewell’s farm has been in operation since 1908.
Patricia Madewell said living the farm life has always been her husband’s passion. She said some days he would rather spend his time in 100-degree weather instead of an air-conditioned room.
“I didn’t understand that at first when I first met him,” she said with a laugh.
And she added that her husband’s pride stems from the legacy that was started by his grandfather, William.
“He’s just really, really proud of the inheritance,not necessarily the land,” she said. “I think he’s more proud of what the honor means to the family.”
In 2000, the state program began honoring families for150 and 200 years of continuous agricultural production. Since then, 122 farms and ranches have been recognized for 150 years of operation and six ranches have been honored for reaching 200 years of operation.
The Madewell farm is a lot smaller than what it once was. When Tommy Madewell’s grandfather purchased the farm, it totaled 320acres.
“My granddaddy had 10 kids and it got split up, and my dad had three kids and it split up again. Most of it was sold.” Madewell said. “My brother and sisters sold their part and I looked into buying it back,but I couldn’t because land out here just got too [expensive].”
Now that he’s older, Madewell limits his work to some basic farm maintenance, raising his herd and growing some produce. But he said when he was younger, the farm was a bigger operation.
“Oh, we had chickens, pigs, sheep ...” he said.“It’s changed a lot.”
Life in agriculture is never easy or simple,Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said.
“We face droughts, fires, floods and pests, but here in Texas, we persevere,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Staples said the land these farmers and ranchers have nurtured has turned the Texas agriculture industryinto a powerhouse of productivity.
“That’s an accomplishment that would not be possible without the hard work of our farming and ranching families,” he said.
In a statement, Staples said family farms andranches are the backbone of Texas agriculture. Currently, more than 98 percent of all farms and ranches in Texas are family owned, he said.
Recognizing the enduring commitment to Texas agriculture is what makes the Family Land Heritage program so special, he said.
Madewell and his wife, who is an employee with the Denton Record-Chronicle, have three children. He said he would like for his children to keep the farm in the family after he’s gone.
“They grew up here, but it doesn’t look like they’ll keep it,” he said.
But he admits that his adult children are still young and have time to decide.
Madewell said he could never give up the land. His home sits on a tree-covered hill with a 160-foot drop that overlooks the farmland to the west.
“I love the hill. How can you give this all up?” he said, looking up at the hill. “You see that tallest tree? That’s right at my back door.”
Madewell said he’s always been partial to country living.
“I prefer the easy life,” he said. “Back when I was a kid, we didn’t lock the door. When someone needed something, we helped them. That’s what it’s supposed to be. And you don’t even need a ‘thank you’ for it.It’s something that’s just supposed to be done.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.