Oklahoma: 5 Decades of Farming in Kingfisher County

As hard as it might be to imagine, 75-year-old Ruelle Kinslow’s current Kingfisher County address is the only one he’s ever known.

A sturdy, metal-sided barn now occupies the space where his childhood home once stood. But, that structure falls easily within the shadow cast from the house he built for his wife of 50-plus years, Almetrice, and the three children the couple raised.

Carrying on the family farm wasn’t necessarily the plan the cow-calf operator envisioned after graduating from the local high school more than five decades ago.

As everyone knows, though, plans have a consistent habit of changing, and in the intervening decades, Kinslow has carved out a life and a livelihood working the same land his parents farmed.

While he spends his days tending his cattle and rye fields, he’s also got an eye on the future, hoping to pass the operation to a third generation – his daughter and two sons – to script another proud chapter in the family’s history on their land.

“I’d like for my children to carry it on as long as they want it,” he said. “I’d like for them to, if they desire to keep up with it.”

With more than 95 percent of all U.S. farms classified as family farms, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the Kinslows aren’t the only farm family in Oklahoma – or across the nation, for that matter – grappling with the mix of issues, challenges and opportunities that accompany the transfer of the operation from one generation to another.

The good news is families aren’t left to their own devices to figure out the sometimes complicated process. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers a wide range of resources such as free, downloadable fact sheets and circulars.

On a bright, cloudless early summer day, Kinslow casually leaned against his cattle truck parked in a pasture that makes up a slice of his 800-acre operation and noted both of his parents were born within a couple miles of where he stood.

The family used the proceeds from the harvest and sale of mungbeans, in particular, to not only buy the plot of land where the house stands, but also help finance the purchase of additional land, including that pasture, through the years.

They also raised cattle and other crops, including wheat and peas, as well as ran a dairy.

“My dad started a dairy in about 1953. I used to hate that dairy because twice a day you knew what you were going to do. You were gonna milk cows,” Kinslow recalled. “I milked cows before I went to school and I milked when I got home from school. Every day, seven days a week.”

There was even a point when he thought he’d prefer pulling cotton to working in the dairy. But, one full day spent in a cotton field changed his mind.

“I begged my dad one time to just let me go pull some cotton. Because all the kids were out of school pulling cotton, I wanted to go pull some cotton,” he said. “I got out there on that Friday. When I left the field I had about 120 pounds. I gave that sack to somebody else and told them I’d rather milk cows.”

When Kinslow graduated from high school in 1960, he had no intention of returning to the farm.

“I’d had enough of it when I left high school, but you know, sometimes your spirit will lead you back,” Kinslow said, his voice trailing off as he reflects on the series of events that led him right back into the lap of the family’s homestead just east of Dover, Oklahoma.

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He joined the National Guard and in the fall of 1961 enrolled in Langston University, where he earned an associate degree in electronics and studied industrial arts. But after his father’s health declined in the spring of 1965, Kinslow was drawn back home.

“I actually believe it was God’s spirit that led me back here because I had no intentions of coming back to this farm,” he adds quietly. “I’ve been here ever since.”

Over the course of five-plus decades, Kinslow has successfully plied the farming skills, expertise and know-how he learned from his father.

He’s done his part in the upbuilding of the community, as well, with a 10-year stint on the Dover School Board.

In addition to serving as the first African-American to hold a seat on the Kingfisher Hospital Board, Kinslow was an active member of numerous other area boards and communities.

As the years have slipped by, farming the land his parents worked so hard to purchase has become increasingly meaningful to Kinslow.

“When the kids were growing up, it was a way of living our life. But, as I’ve gotten older and the kids have gotten grown, I’ve just enjoyed running around here looking at the cows,” he said. “I use it as a hobby. It’s a hobby to me.”

Seemingly less reluctant to embrace the family farm than their father in his younger years, Kinslow’s children have already expressed their desire to keep it going. Though none of them currently live on the land, they all remain actively involved in the operation.

“My brothers and I have sat down and talked about what it may look like in the future, how we’re going to do this,” said Kinslow’s daughter, Fachaitte Kinslow. “My dad said if it’s something we want to do, it’s our choice, but I think we’d like to keep it in the family as much as possible.”

As the youngest of the three Kinslow children, Fachaitte knows only of her grandparents through stories others share, as they passed away before she was born. However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the connection to the land as strongly as the rest of the family.

The farm also has played a major role in some of her favorite memories and activities like picking plums to make jelly with her mother, riding around with her father, checking cattle and listening to him recount family stories, the big annual Memorial Day cookout her parents used to host, joining her mother in preparing and delivering meals to her father in the fields during harvest season.

“I love coming here. When I tell people I grew up on a farm, they don’t believe it. They don’t believe I know how to drive a tractor or that I work with cattle,” Fachaitte said. “It’s very cool. It’s very peaceful. When I get stressed out, I just come here and hang out for a couple days.”

Standing in the same pasture, on the same bright, cloudless early summer day as her father, Fachaitte paused to contemplate what the farm means to the family’s future.

“I guess I look at it a little bit differently. When you go to a restaurant and eat a hamburger or steak, I look at it as my dad helped do this. He’s helping to feed so many different people,” she said. “This is part of our heritage.”

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