When Becky Freeman Anderson was born, she became the fourth generation of her farm family to own land on the Scarboro Highway (Highway 17) just over the Ogeechee River in Screven County. A Georgia Centennial Farm, Old Freeman Family Farm had been in her family since John Wesley Freeman purchased 400 acres in 1893 for around $2,000. There has been a Freeman descendent farming the land since then. Today small family farms face many challenges in remaining lucrative, but the Andersons are innovators. Becky and husband Dan, along with sons Garrett and Benjy and their families have created inventive ways to keep the farm sustainable and in the family for generations to come.
Becky’s great-grandfather John Wesley Freeman farmed the land until 1903, then passed it down to his sons, Charlton and Marion. Marion Freeman and wife Effie moved onto the farm into the century-old farmhouse that still sits in the middle of a pecan orchard on the farm. Known as M.F., Marion Freeman and Effie were the parents of six children.
During M.F. and Effie’s time on the land, they made the farm into a large sustainable operation, becoming one of the largest farms in the area. They grew a wide variety of crops, plowing with around 25 mules, including tobacco, corn, cotton and peanuts. Thirty acres of the farm were planted in pecan trees that still stand today. Outbuildings included a commissary, cotton gin, generator house, chicken house, big barn, smoke house, and ice house. M.F. employed around 15 families who lived on the farm. When he passed away, around 2,000 acres were in cultivation.
There were six children born to M.F. and Effie, three boys and three girls. Son M.F., Jr. worked with his father on the farm and was first in the family to use a tractor. The original “H” model Farmall is still on the farm, part of a large collection of around 25 tractors that the Andersons own. Members of the Rusty Relics antique tractor club, Danny and Becky still ride their vintage John Deere, Farmall, Allis Chalmers, and Chase tractors in parades, displaying them for special events.
Becky’s father, M.F., Jr. was a Navy veteran of World War II returning to the farm to continue the family tradition. Upon the death of M.F., Sr. the original farm house was deeded to M.F., Jr. and his wife Kathleen. They had four children: Mary, Franklin, Glenn, and Becky. Becky’s father farmed until 1965 when he passed away leaving a young widow with four children to raise. Kathleen worked at Minkovitz in Sylvania from 1966 until 1990, then became deputy clerk of the superior court until she retired in 2000. She leased the farm to relatives to supplement her income.
Becky was only 11 when her father passed away, “It was a lot on Mama. She was only 37 when Daddy died with four kids to raise. She was a housewife for one year, then had to go to work to support all of us,” she said.
In 1973, Becky married Danny Anderson, a Bulloch County native who also grew up on a farm. Their love for the land and Becky’s ties to the Old Freeman Family Farm prompted them to move back to the home place after only two years away. They began farming in 1976, the same year their oldest son, Benjamin Daniel (Benjy) was born.
M.F. Freeman, Jr., had died intestate, with minor children, so the farm had remained in his estate until 1976. When Danny and Becky moved onto the farm, they were able to build a log cabin home within the pecan orchard near the original farm house. Much had changed over the years. All of the original out buildings had fallen to disrepair and were removed or destroyed. The only remaining one being the generator house. Danny and Becky were able over time to purchase back parts of the M.F., Jr. Estate from relatives and now own most of the original acreage.
In 1980 a second son, William Garrett (Garrett) was born. The boys were reared on the land and flourished living the farm life. They grew up doing farm chores, driving tractors, and helping their parents to run the farm. Active in 4-H and FFA, they also showed livestock and competed with 4-H projects, eventually becoming livestock judges.
With the Andersons now owning the old home place, Danny and Becky began to consider alternatives to traditional farming to keep the farm diverse and to create new revenue streams. Near the family’s log home, Danny began to replace the original out buildings that had been destroyed with new structures. He built a large barn, a commissary (store) with a prep kitchen, and restored the old farm house.
The Andersons turned these new out buildings, in a beautiful setting within the original pecan orchard, into a venue that can be rented for weddings, family reunions, and other events. For the past five years, each fall the Old Freeman Family Farm operated a corn maze and pumpkin patch with hay rides and a zip line.
Becky also hosts school field trips to the farm that provide a hands-on farm life experience for second graders. The tours last four to five hours and are led by Becky, who retired as Dover’s postmaster in 2012, and volunteers. Five stations are created for the children to visit: an animal station with pigs, chickens, dairy calves and goats; a grist mill station where corn is ground into grits; a crop station (this year it is cotton); a pumpkin and sugarcane patch; and the corn maze.
“The children also enjoy a hayride and a sack lunch during the visit,” said Becky. “We have really enjoyed having a large corn maze for the past five years and opening it to the public, but this year we are taking a break. We have so many weddings and school tours, that we found ourselves operating seven days a week to meet the demand.”
The farm is still available for groups and tours, October – November, Tuesday – Friday, advance reservations required.
Another innovative way the Andersons are adding to the farming operation is by developing special feed mixtures for livestock. Danny has researched and developed Non-GMO (genetically modified organism), feeds for chicken, hogs, goats, breed cows and horses. His brand is Real Feed® and it is a Georgia Grown® product. The Non-GMO corn is grown on the farm and bagged in Metter, Georgia. Currently, it is being distributed locally. As the operation grows, Danny intends to ship the feed as demand dictates.
Benjy and Garrett have developed a feed of their own for deer. “It’s a specialty deer corn still on the cob the boys call ‘Dixie Deer Corn,’” said Danny. The boys also both work for the Georgia Forestry Commission – Benjy in Screven County and Garrett in Bulloch County. They farm “on the side” owning some land and leasing other acres to grow corn, wheat, and oats. In addition, they operate a custom harvesting and hay baling business, all under Anderson Brothers Farms.
Benjy is married to Ashley, and Garrett’s wife is Haley, Director of Pharmacy for Optim Medical Center in Jenkins County. Garrett and Haley are parents to three children – son Slade, and twin daughters Kensley and the late Hendley, who passed away last fall. Slade and Kensley Anderson are the sixth generation of the Freeman family to be born while living on the farm.
The Andersons hope that the future of the farm is secure because of all the innovations that have been made in the way the farm is operated. Inviting the public to spend a day on the farm, creating new farm products, and harvesting crops the traditional way have all become part of what will preserve the Old Freeman Family farm for generations to come.
Editor’s Note: On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Andersons will host Plow Day at the Old Freeman Family Farm with antique tractors and plows on display with the Rusty Relics. For more information visit their website at www.andersonfreemanfarm.com.