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Deeply Rooted

As you drive down Highway 72, just south of Rolla, Mo., the natural beauty of the Mark Twain National Forest and the rugged, rocky hills of the Ozark Plateau quickly come into view. This ancient landscape is dotted with caves and natural springs as well as a family history that has deepened and strengthened throughout the centuries.

Tucked in the woodlands here is a tract of land that has been in the Lenox family since the early 1800s. The Lenox line can be traced to a Scottish clan that settled in the Ozark Highlands among native oak, hickory and pine forests. Of that parcel, about 700 acres are documented in the property abstract as being in the family since 1838.

“The history, that’s really what brought me back,” said Angie Lenox Mallery, whose father, Kennard Robert Lenox, took over the family farm from his father, Hamilton Wilson Lenox, in 1977. A sixth-generation farmer, Angie was born with a passion for the land and learned the Lenox farming traditions from her father—lessons that have been passed down through the generations.

The Lenox narrative runs deep, with a few twists and turns along the way. The newest chapter to the family’s story is that Angie, the oldest daughter of Ken and his wife, Joyce, now runs the family’s cow/calf business. It’s the first time in the farm’s almost 200-year history that a woman is the principal operator.

Angie grew up on the farm with her brother and two sisters. After college, she moved to St. Louis and pursued a career in fashion merchandising and retail management. She married Mike Mallery, and they started a family. Mike’s banking job took them to Texas, where they became entrenched in suburban life outside of Dallas. No one thought that Angie would move back to the family farm, especially Angie.

“My family is very close, that includes my cousins and extended family. In 2008 and 2009, during our Lenox family Thanksgivings, we all discussed what the future looked like for the farm,” Angie said, referring to the festive family gathering with no less than 80 people in attendance. “Those discussions about the farm, the family legacy and who was interested in taking it over were on my mind and in my heart for a few years.” 

Putting a plan in place
The wheels started to turn for Angie, but she knew it was a big decision with a lifetime commitment. In 2013, after many conversations with her husband and daughters, her siblings and parents, even cousins and aunts and uncles, she knew that taking over the farm was a real possibility.

Uprooting themselves from Texas, Angie and Mike moved their young family to the Lenox farm the following year to help manage and eventually run the cow/calf operation. 
The task was lofty. Ken, who was 70 years old at the time, handled more than 650 head of black Angus and managed 65 pastures on 3,000 acres of owned and rented ground. He was an expert in growing grass and was on the leading edge of using native forages for hay and grazing.

“When I held the property ledgers in my hands and looked at the history of my family, I realized my roots were too deep not to do this,” said Angie. “My dad asked my Aunt Kris, his oldest sibling, what she thought about me running the farm. She assured him that I could do it. I think he just needed a little convincing that a woman—that I—could do it.”
Once the decision was made, Angie and Mike worked with their attorney and her parents’ legal advisor to formulate a succession plan. Ken had taken over the farm from his parents, and the Lenox family was very open about discussing the future, so the transition process was transparent to all. The land stayed in Ken and Joyce’s estate, while Angie and Mike purchased the cow/calf operation. The Mallerys established Lenox Farms, LLC with her father as the lead foreman.

“I knew I could do…,” Angie started to say, and then paused. “I knew I could do it, but I just knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Part of the succession plan was to find someone to be Angie’s right-hand man to help with the cattle business, pasture management and hay operation. Kevin Shaw, whose father was a hired hand for Angie’s grandfather, grew up on the Lenox farm and helped when he was young. Kevin had since moved on to work as a logger and miner, but Ken and Angie asked him to come back to help with the day-to-day operation.

Going along for the ride 
Once the Mallerys moved back to the farm, Angie said she and Ken spent a lot of time together. Their conversations helped her learn about the farm, his methods and his standards. She took notes and even videoed him explaining aspects of the operation.

“He would say, ‘Let’s take a drive to check that cow we saw that’s about to calve.’ Or ‘Let’s go move that herd to a new pasture,’” Angie said. “I did my best to take in every little thing.”

One of the things she learned was how cattle drives on the Lenox farm evolved through the years. Her grandfather would watch for the return of his older brother and the other cowboys from their cattle drives that lasted weeks and traversed multiple states. As time passed, the cattle drives were shorter but still used horseback riders. Angie remembers often being one of those riders.
Ken expanded the Lenox farm fencing system and learned that cattle drives were more easily accomplished by truck. “Dad honked the horn, and the cows knew they would be fed,” said Angie.

“They also follow the truck if you hold a feed sack out the window and shake it.” While moving one herd to a different pasture, she demonstrated the technique by honking the horn. Sure enough, the herd followed.

Angie recalls many of Ken’s clever sayings that she and Kevin use on the farm regularly, such as, “Always call them when you move them, and always move them when you call them.” Another one is, “You have to move the herd the day before they move themselves.” And when they were dealing with a sick animal, “You can’t save them all.”

Another nod to the past is that the Lenox pastures all have names, either from a relative or how the land was used. There is the Apple Tree pasture, the Burkitt Place, the Via Hollow, the Old School House and the Tombstone pasture, just to name a few.

“My father was a generous steward of his forefathers’ land,” Angie said. “One of his legacies is all the improvement he made. He transformed more than 1,000 acres of raw Ozark land filled with rock and trees to produce more than 650 head of cattle. His father only had a herd of 60. He transformed a few hayfields and rough forest into thriving, diversified grassland pastures that produce hay and sustain our herds.”

Ken worked with Paul Grayson, bulk plant manager at Rolla MFA Agri Services, for all his fertilizer and soil health needs. “We had a great working relationship and would talk about different ideas for his pastures and how to care for the soil,” Grayson said. “I now work with Angie and Mike and help them in whatever way I can. We just recently did soil sampling, and they have new recommendations for some of their fields.”

Lenox Farms also purchases all their fencing needs and some specialized feed from the Salem MFA Agri Services location.
Carrying on the tradition

Each year, Angie took over more of the day-to-day management. She was patient and let the succession plan happen on her father’s timeline.
“Gradually, he became more accepting and would really listen to my ideas,” Angie said.
Six years into their partnership, Angie began to see her father’s pace and demeanor change. She treasured his knowledge but knew she was going to have to start making the decisions.
“I could see it in his eyes,” Angie said. “It was hard for him to step aside.”

When her father was taking over the day-to-day operations of the farm from his father in the 1970s, Ken recalled that there were many struggles between the two of them. Her grandfather didn’t want to give up being in charge. In 2022, Angie and her mother saw history repeating itself as they experienced those same difficulties with Ken.

“Didn’t he learn from the mistakes during the transition with his father? Is he in a state of mental decline that is making him a different person? Is it his ego? Will he ever admit that he is no longer the lead foreman?” Angie said these were some of the questions that she and her mother asked each other.

Soon the answers became clear. Her father was diagnosed with dementia, which led to delusions and a rapid decline in his physical abilities. He passed away in October 2023.
Angie said she is truly grateful for the 10 years she had to learn the daily operation from her father. As the succession plan played out, she was able to spend quality time with him, gaining much more than just a working knowledge of the farm.

“Farming families have a unique definition of tradition,” Angie wrote on her blog in 2014 as she embarked on her new venture. “I am amazed and often scared to death when I think about how I am one of the main people responsible for the future of the tradition and history behind my family farm.”

When asked about her goals for the future, Angie said she plans to maintain the farm and herds to her father’s standards and to make small improvements.

“Who knows? One of our girls might decide to come back and have a story similar to mine,” Angie said. “I think that women who want to work on farms are realistic about what they are getting into. Most are goal-oriented, strong-willed, strong-minded—they are just plain strong. Today, no matter their age or level of responsibility, women who work on farms can be seen as modern-day pioneers paving the way for more women to join them.”

***

Successful succession takes time, thought and communication

With more than 370 million acres of farmland estimated to change hands over the next 20 years, support for farm transitions is greatly needed. According to American Farmland Trust, more than 40% of agricultural land is owned by producers who are 65 years old and older. Yet, one of the biggest challenges for young farmers is obtaining capital to purchase the land.

To help ease some of those succession challenges, Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, and Mike Braun, a Republican senator from Indiana, introduced the Farm Transition Act of 2024 in March. The bipartisan bill would help break down barriers to farming and agricultural land ownership, potentially helping more Americans pursue farming careers.

“I guess the biggest thing to realize is that farm succession takes time and effort,” said Angie Lenox Mallery of Rolla, Mo., who now runs the cattle operation her father once owned. “It’s definitely a process with many different issues that need to be addressed.”

Several different resources can be considered during succession planning. One such option is the University of Missouri Extension Service.

“Having difficult conversations and engaging in intentional communication are critical components of this process,” said Wesley Tucker, MU Extension agricultural business specialist. “Our team is here to offer resources that can equip families for these conversations and help them protect the business and family harmony.” 
Last year, MU Extension offered workshops that addressed topics such as how to minimize conflict, conduct family meetings, develop short-term operation plans and prepare for the next generation of management and ownership.

Each farming operation has its own unique situation and family dynamic, Tucker said, so using a trusted attorney is also very important.

“We have an attorney that we have a great working relationship with,” Mallery said. “She asked us questions to help guide us in the process. She also had things for us to consider that we never thought of.” 

Shannon Ferrell, an Oklahoma State University associate professor specializing in farm transitions and agriculture law, researched farm succession plans. The most common strategy is one of the least successful, he found. More than half of farm owners divide their assets equally among their heirs, regardless of whether they plan on continuing the farm themselves.

Another strategy, which Ferrell calls the “lifetime farm transfer,” involves interested children making farm payments over time to their parents. They would essentially buy shares of the farm as their parents decreased their percentage of ownership.

Ferrell said his research showed the strategy that works the best across farm types and incomes was giving farm assets to children interested in farming but dividing land ownership equally among them.

For more information about succession planning, visit extension.missouri.edu.

 CLICK TO READ MORE FROM THE 2024 MAY ISSUE OF TODAY'S FARMER MAGAZINE.

Read this story as printed on the Today's Farmer flip book version for this issue HERE.

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