POCAHONTAS - For Lee Halder and his wife, Linda Vander Zeyden, it's satisfying to see four of their five Century Farms from their kitchen window.
"Land buying has been a tradition in our family," said Linda Vander Zeyden, who grew up a mile south of the farm where she and her husband live west of Pocahontas.
Vander Zeyden's great-grandfather, Gustav Schryer, began purchasing Pocahontas County farms in Dover and Marshall townships after emigrating from Germany. Halder, who also has German ancestry, noted that his grandfather, Frank Halder, homesteaded one of the family's Marshall Township farms in 1885.
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Lee Halder and his wife, Linda Vander Zeyden, of Pocahontas County, said they are proud to own five Century Farms.
For generations, Pocahontas County has provided acres of fertile land for growing corn
Halder's father, Charles Halder, enjoyed exhibiting his best ears of corn at the shows that were once held across Iowa and the Midwest. He competed in the Allee Show at Newell, the Pocahontas County Fair when it used to be held in Fonda, the Clay County Fair and the Iowa State Fair. He would ship ears of corn to the Chicago International, said Halder, who noted that his father won countless ribbons and trophies through the years.
"In 1948, the corn was especially good and made 100 bushels per acre," Halder said. This won his father a high yield contest and $100 from the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce.
Charles Halder was an innovative farmer who planted test strips so he could see what farming practices worked best. "He also put an attachment on his horse-drawn John Deere planter that dropped starter fertilizer," Lee Halder said, who graduated from Ware High School in 1952 and farmed until 1998.
Corn wasn't the only crop that thrived in the rich soils of Pocahontas County. During the Great Depression, Vander Zeyden's grandfather, Martin Rebhuhn, raised potatoes for the forerunner of the Hiland Potato Chip Co.
"He saved the farm with his potatoes, which he raised on about 40 acres," Vander Zeyden said, who still has her grandfather's potato planter and potato digger. "He'd get about 300 bushels per acre and would sell 100 pounds of potatoes for $2."
Vander Zeyden understands the risks and opportunities that are inherent to farming, since she left a teaching career to begin operating her family's farm in 1985 when her father was ready to retire.
After she married Halder in 1988, the couple began building their future together on the farm. Tragedy struck one cold, windy November night in 1989, however, when a fire destroyed their home and threatened their lives.
The following spring, the couple decided to build a new house on the farm and begin their lives anew. After the Halders moved in later that year, a friend approached the couple about hosting his company's Christmas party. They agreed, the party was a success and soon requests for meal catering started pouring in.
"We found ourselves in the restaurant business," Vander Zeyden said, who later decided that the farm's dilapidated barn, which had been built in 1906 and was once well-known in the area for barn dances, could be a perfect fit.
In 1997, the couple moved the barn onto a new foundation 70 feet east of where it originally stood. By 1999, the massive remodeling project was complete. Since then Halderwood Farms (www.halderwood.com) has hosted numerous high school proms, wedding receptions and other celebrations.
The barn and the family's Century Farms hold fond memories for the couple. "The land means a lot to us," Vander Zeyden said. "Through good times and bad, we've held these farms together."
The family intends to keep it this way, Halder said. "You're rooted in the land when you have a Century Farm."