Paul Munns had a rude introduction to running a farm.
Munns had recently returned from his LDS mission, got married, and leased the 50-acre farm in Elwood, Utah, that his father, Archie, had operated for nearly four decades. With the future looking bright, Paul decided to plant the whole farm with sugar beets, the top cash crop in the Bear River Valley at the time.
Winter came early that year. The rain started in September, temperatures started to drop earlier than usual, and the beets froze before he could get a single one out of the ground.
His first crop was a total loss. After a normal harvest, he would have received a check in the mail worth around $10,000. Instead, he opened the letter to find a $2,500 bill for labor and supplies.
“Things were pretty tough,” Munns said. “We started out the hard way, but we learned to become very cautious after that.”
He didn’t give up, and that perseverance has paid off. Mother Nature cooperated in the ensuing years, the beet crops were good, and Munns was able to get a government loan to take ownership of the farm and cut his father a check.
“He had it for 40 years when I bought it from him and never had it paid for, so he was excited when I was able to give him a check that paid it out,” he said. “It meant a lot to me knowing what dad went through, the Depression, some hard times.”
Paul has a lot of childhood memories working on the farm with his dad, including coming up with what Paul’s son Rodger calls the “first hybrid tractor.”
The family got its first tractor in 1953, but soon discovered that it didn’t have enough power on its own to plow through the heavy ground, so Archie decided to bring in some more primitive technology.
“He hitched up some horses on the front of tractor and rode that cowboy style, going back and forth,” Paul recalls. “People were stopping to take pictures, waving at us. They thought it was really weird.”
A lot has changed since Archie Munns started the farm in 1920. The family now owns the farm outright, and today it encompasses 800 acres — 500 of which the family owns, with the remaining 300 leased — scattered across several parcels throughout the area. With sugar beets largely a thing of the past, the Munns’ fields are now filled with wheat, alfalfa and corn. The family farmhouse is still there, but is larger now after several additions over the years.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the name on the deed. The farm remains in the hands of the Munns family, with Rodger now in charge. In recognition of 100 years of ownership and continuous operation under the watch of the same family, it recently became the latest to receive the title of Utah Century Farm.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the family got together at the place where it all started to celebrate its new status and reflect on a century of hardships, successes, struggles and happiness.
Mike Pace, Utah State University Extension agent for Box Elder County, helped with the process by verifying official ownership records and submitting them for review by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation and Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, the entities that administer the Utah Century Farm program.
Pace said it’s becoming increasingly rare to see a farm stay in one family that long, as it has become more and more difficult to make a living in agriculture.
“When you look at what’s going on in Box Elder County in general, the farms that are left are getting bigger,” he said. “These small farms, nobody wants to take them up. It’s a stressful life, but it’s a good life.”
It’s part of Pace’s job to present Utah Century Farms in the county with an official certificate and a sign to place in front of their property informing passersby of the milestone, and he was at the celebration to do just that. In this case, he was presenting to friends and neighbors, having moved with his family to the area 17 years ago.
“They’re just up the road from me,” he said. “They’re some of the first people we met when we moved here. Sometimes I don’t know the people I’m presenting to, so it was kind of fun to be able to do that.”
Over the years, Paul had to work other jobs to support the farm, first as a mail delivery man in Tremonton and later as a firefighter at Hill Air Force Base.
In addition to all the hard work, uncertainty and financial difficulty, Paul has nearly lost his life in the course of his work – not once, but twice.
While baling straw for a neighbor during his senior year in high school, his skull and jaw were partially crushed when his head became caught between two tractors. The family doctor in Tremonton said he wouldn’t survive, but sent him to Brigham City upon his parents’ insistence. As luck would have it, doctors there were able to track down a former World War II medic who was attending a conference in Salt Lake City and had treated a similar injury before.
After he recovered, he met the manager of a lumber operation in Tremonton who happened to be the driver of the ambulance that took him to Brigham City.
“They told him ‘We’re sending this young man to Brigham City as a favor to his parents. He won’t live long enough to get there, so when he dies, just turn around and bring him back,’” Paul said. “They got there and I was still alive, so he sat on the lawn and waited for a half hour, then gave up and came home.”
He is still here, and at 83 years old still works on the farm, repairing machinery and helping with whatever tasks he still can. Rodger oversees the operation these days, and along with one hired hand, the father and son are keeping the farm going.