Farm Progress

Higbie family roots in American ag are 11 generations deep

The Master Farmer family has 12th and 13th generations involved in agriculture.

Walt Davis 1, Editor

March 1, 2018

5 Slides

Doug and Jean Higbie's roots in agriculture go 11 generations deep in farming and almost as deep in medicine. So it's not surprising that both found a way to pursue careers in both at the same time. 

As a college student, Doug started in pre-veterinary medicine for a couple of years before switching from Kansas State University to the University of Kansas to complete a degree in pharmacy. Doug would go on to work in retail pharmacy for 43 years. At the same time, he continued to build on the farming operation that he started in high school through college, traveling from campus to farm on the weekends.

Jean, who grew up on a family dairy farm, met Doug while both were on the Franklin County 4-H Dairy Judging team. They became 4-H sweethearts and began dating in college. They married in 1966, one year before Jean obtained her nursing degree from the University of Kansas in 1967, and two years before Doug finished pharmacy school in 1968.

Given the condition of the world at that time, Doug decided to join the Medical Service Corp in the Unites States Army and was commissioned a captain. "I was facing the draft and decided that I would have more control of what I did and where I went if I completed ROTC while in college and became an officer," he says. He was lucky enough to be stationed at nearby Fort Riley as chief of pharmacy service for Irwin Army Hospital. That allowed him to continue farming even while in the service, while Jean was able to find a job teaching nursing at a Junction City hospital.

In 1971, the couple bought their first 80 acres of land at 1479 Idaho Road in Williamsburg, Kan., with the help of an FHA loan, and put in their first crop. They have now officially retired from farming and their careers, and have turned operations over to their four children and their families. However, Jean still substitutes as a teacher and a school nurse at local schools.  They plan to continue living in their home on the farm in Williamsburg most of the year, but continuing with a winter missionary type project in southern Texas at the Women's Pregnancy Center, where they have volunteered for the last seven years.

 "We are very excited to see agriculture in our 11th generation here in the U.S. pass on to the 12th generation, our children, and the 13th generation, our grandchildren," Jean says. “We actively assist our children and grandchildren in caring for the farm and animals whenever we are needed as they are all very active in 4-H, FFA, varsity sports, school and church activities, and showing livestock around the country.”

Each of the Higbie children has followed in their parents' footsteps in farming while also pursuing another career. Heath, the oldest son, started his agriculture enterprise while in 4-H, and built his own herd of registered Simmental cattle. He also bought a DewEze hay wagon, and ran a summer business hauling hay while in high school. He was the state award winner in the 4-H Public Speaking project, and achieved the American FFA degree. When he graduated from high school, he sold the Simmental herd to pay for college at Kansas State University. He graduated in 1992 with a degree in agri-business and started a career with Farm Bureau Financial Services in Montgomery County. He and his wife have five children who show Simmental cattle, and he continues to farm in both Montgomery and Franklin counties.

Second son, Aaron, followed his brother's example, using 4-H livestock projects to help build a herd of registered Simmental cattle, which he sold after high school graduation. He graduated from KSU in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.  He went on to graduate school at Louisiana State University, earning a master's degree in meat science, and almost enough hours for a doctorate in swine nutrition, before returning to the family farm. He was a state and national award winner in the 4-H Veterinary Science project, and achieved the American FFA degree while in high school. In 2004 he purchased the Santa Fe Trail custom meat processing plant in Overbrook, Kan., which he continues to operate while also running a farming operation. He is married and has one daughter who is active on the farm.

Daughter Audra Higbie McCurdy joined her siblings in the Simmental herd for college money effort. She earned a bachelor's degree in animal science and a minor in agronomy in 1996.  She later returned to school at Pittsburg State University to earn her master's degree in education. Her off-farm career was special education. She taught challenged students at West Franklin High School, where she incorporated agriculture into the curriculum, not only for her special ed students but for Williamsburg Elementary School students. She is now using her animal science degree as she works for a veterinary medicine manufacturer's research farm. She was a state award winner in the 4-H Foods and Nutrition Project and achieved the American FFA degree while in high school. She is married and has two children who are 4th generation 4-Hers and 3rd generation FFA members.

The youngest son, Ryan, changed the Simmental tradition slightly by not just opting to sell some of his herd for college money. Ryan retained some cattle to continue building a herd for the future. Like his siblings, he was involved in 4-H and FFA. and was Kansas State Star Farmer in 1994.  He was also a state and national award winner in the Wildlife and Fisheries 4-H Project, and he achieved the American FFA degree. He graduated from KSU with a degree in animal science in 1998.  Upon graduation, he began his farming and livestock production career. In the family tradition, he has another job as well, working for the Kansas Livestock Association in charge of membership.  He is married with four children, all of whom are actively engaged in the farm operation.

Through the years, telling the story of agriculture to the public has been a mission for the Higbie family.

"We have been promoting agriculture to the public through our events, displays, demonstrations, and public speaking in different areas such as livestock, crops, dairy foods, yeast breads, and uses of wheat," Jean says. 

The family was also among the pioneers of a "Day at the Farm" event, which they hosted for 15 years starting in 1985. Working with the local FFA chapter, they invited between 350 to 800 third graders from the Kansas City area and their teachers and staff to come to the farm for a day-long class to learn about agriculture. The idea was to introduce inner city children who had little or no connection to a farm to learn about agriculture. The students were divided into smaller groups to rotate through classes taught by FFA students. Livestock and livestock products, farm crops and crop products, wildlife and fish, bees and honey production, wheat and break making, farm machinery and equipment, sheep shearing and uses of wool, were among the regular topics. Personnel from the Natural Resources Conservation Service offered education about soil and water conservation, while local Extension agents taught them about the services extension offers to farmers. "Each teacher got take-home materials to help them include agriculture in the classroom," Jean says. "And each student was fed a lunch of farm-grown meat, fruits, and vegetables.  The Rainbow Bread Company provided a mini-loaf of bread for each student."

"Day at the Farm" programs continue to be offered across Kansas and the U.S., many of them with help from local Extension, Farm Bureau, or other farm organizations.

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