aerial view of a cornfield against a group of trees

Posted by: ACRES Land Trust

  • 01/30/2024

ACRES Protects the Stevens Family Farm and Forest Reserve

The farm and 1863 home outside of Angola, Indiana, where Virginia “Ginny” Stevens was raised, and where she returned to call home the last ten years, has been in her family since the 1930s. When it was time to plan for the future of the land, she wanted to make sure this special place remained intact and preserved forever.

History of the Stevens Property

Stevens’ grandfather and his two single, young, adult sons farmed together near the town of Pioneer in Williams County in northwest Ohio. Like many other farmers, they, too, were impacted by the Great Depression. When the lender who held the mortgage to their home and farm demanded immediate payment, in full, they sold everything they could to satisfy the note, but they were $110 short, and the bank took it all.

They started over by moving across the Ohio-Indiana line to Steuben County, and the family rented a home. A landowner was willing to rent farm ground to them. That 120-acre farm would be their new beginning. The next year, the owner sold them that farm, including the barns and other out-buildings, plus the 1863 farmhouse for $3,800.

Growing up on the farm gave Stevens and her brother, John, a remarkable childhood. They lived just down the road from their six cousins, whose fathers farmed together their entire lives. There were three other cousins whose parents also farmed across the fields. Many of the rambunctious cousins spent time outside exploring the woods, building forts and playing make-believe until their mother’s ringing of the dinner bell called them home.

Decades later, Stevens returned to her childhood home after inheriting her half of the original farm from her late parents. She has taken great care to restore the 1863 farmhouse where she was raised and still has the dinner bell that called her home as a child. One of her favorite projects has been rebuilding the 130-foot porch that spans all four sides of the home. “Every single day, I walk out on my porch and proclaim, ‘Thank you, Mom and Dad,’” she said.

The Perfect Partnership

Stevens reached out to ACRES to learn more about protecting this parcel which includes a 42-acre agricultural property plus a 13-acre woods, which is part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry’s “Classified Forest” program. Having grown up near several ACRES preserves, Stevens was familiar with ACRES Land Trust’s track record for protecting local land. Once ACRES protects a property, it guarantees never to develop or sell it.

Over the next several years, Stevens has worked with ACRES to donate the land to forever protect it. The land donation was finalized at the end of 2023. Stevens named the property in memory of her parents, Charles E. and Mary L. Stevens. “I had to do what was right for me, for our son, and what was right for eternity,” explained Stevens. “ACRES perfectly fit that bill.”

Her gift is in the form of a life estate meaning she will retain certain rights for the rest of her life such as income from the cash rent of the farm ground and the carefully managed timber sales from the wooded parcels. After her passing, those same rights will pass on to her son for his life. Beyond their lifetimes, ACRES promises to steward the property in perpetuity with plans to restore the land to natural systems.

Living Beyond Herself

Stevens, who has planted hundreds of trees, said Thomas Fuller’s words have always resonated with her, “He who plants trees loves others besides himself.” While she may not get to see her saplings become towering giants, it gives her satisfaction to know they will benefit future generations.

It is in this same spirit, she is donating the enduring gift of the land that has been in her family for generations. “This has been Heaven on Earth. I want to share this, even long-after I am gone.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023 ACRES Quarterly, mailed to members each season. The 20-page Quarterly features ACRES news, stories and events. You can subscribe by becoming an ACRES member with a donation of $20 or more. Click here to learn more!

Photos by Jarrid Spicer