"We really don’t own the land. We’re just caretakers who have the pleasure of paying the property taxes for a while," said Bibb Mims of Monroe County.
If ever there was a man who loved farming, Bibb Mims is that man. At the age of 74 with over two-thousand acres of work facing him and his son, Buddy, every day, Mims still makes the stroll from his lifelong home to his office in the nearest barn before the sun comes up.
"My father told me long ago, if I was going to run this farm, I needed to be the first one to work and the last one back to the house," he said.
From the time he was nine years old, Mims has worked on the same land that has been in his family for more than 100 years, buying more than 20 parcels of land from his mother and other family members since 1958.
"I was the youngest of six children, and my mother didn’t want the farm divided up when she passed. She left an inheritance to my brothers and sold me her property with the understanding I would keep it whole," he explained.
And Mims did just that, over time purchasing from aunts, uncles and cousins the property original to his family plus additional adjacent parcels.
"Every dime we’ve ever made, you can see here," Mims said, gesturing toward the barns and fields behind his home.
And Mims said his mother was likewise dedicated to reinvesting in the farm.
"My mother bought the home I was born in with her very own money. When most of this area was still covered with timber, there were lumber camps filled with the men who cut those trees and shipped them to the Alabama River where they were sent to Mobile. For years she sold eggs, milk and butter to the men in those camps until she had the $2,000 she needed to buy this house," Mims recalled.
The present day farm began as two plantations belonging to different branches of Mims’s family: the Lambert Plantation established in 1894 and the Mims Plantation established in 1897. Both have been designated as Century and Heritage Farms by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, and Mims relishes the history of both original purchases.
"The Lambert Plantation had two different parts originally homesteaded in 1854 and 1858, and I have the original lambskin, land-patent documents signed by James Buchanan and Martin Van Buren. Amanda Haseltine Beard Mims was twice widowed, and she and her only son, David Cullen Mims, used gold to purchase what became the Mims plantation," Mims related.
Although steeped deep in history, the farm is a testimony to the evolution of agriculture in the South.
"We plant about 1,500 acres of cotton and 150 acres of corn. We’ve got about 500 acres of pasture for 300 brood cows, and the balance of the farm is in timber," said Mims, adding that parts of the property have produced cotton for more than 100 years.
"I started working on this farm at nine or ten years old, dusting cotton with a sack and putting out nitrogen with a lard bucket. We have come from six-foot bags of cotton to 6-row cotton pickers and 12-row GPS equipment," he said of the changes he’s seen.
Mims has a keen memory, particularly when it comes to numbers, and he can recall at the drop of a hat past production figures and input costs.
"Since 1975, we’ve produced 54,658 bales of cotton, and 10,000 feeder calves since 1970," he said, adding he still likes to sell his cattle through the Frisco City Stockyards.
"We’ve had cattle traders want to buy a truckload or two, but, when we take cattle to the stockyard near us, we leave with a check and don’t worry about whether or not it’ll cash," he said.
Mims’s fondness for hometown businesses extends to his local Co-op as well.
"We have had good business and honest relationships with both the Farmers Cooperative Market [Frisco City and Leroy] and the [AFC-owned] Frank Currie Gin Company all these years, and I thank them for their help. They are always ready to assist us in any way possible, whether we are buying a product or seeking input for planning purposes," Mims praised.
Ron Bailey, manager of the Frank Currie Gin, said Mims has always been a straightforward man and someone with whom he enjoys talking.
"Anybody who’s been farming that long is interesting to talk with," Bailey added.
Brad Jordan, manager of the fertilizer and seed division of the Farmers Cooperative Market in Frisco City, also said he enjoys talking with Mims.
"He’s an interesting man, and it’s amazing how he connects people. Anyone he talks to for any length of time, he’ll figure out someone he knows that’s related to them or from the same community. And he runs one of the most precise farming operations I know of. Down to the smallest detail, he knows exactly what he has put in and what return he plans to get on that investment," Jordan said.
When Bibb and his son Buddy aren’t busy with farm work, it’s likely one or both of them can be found working in the shop on their farm pursuing their shared hobby of antique tractors. With more than 40 on the place and the collection continuing to grow, even their leisure time is spent in farm-related activities.
"I knew a man who traveled a lot, so I would tell him what models I was interested in and what I would be willing to pay for one. Any old farm place he went by, he’d see if they had a tractor I wanted and what they’d want for it, so we bought a lot of them that way," Mims explained.
While the instantly recognizable green of a John Deere gleams on many of their tractors, Ford, Case International and Farmall logos also abound.
"Mechanic work is so costly we try to do everything we can here," said Buddy of the maintenance on their new and antique equipment.
Some of their tractors and equipment are huge machines with cutting edge technology, but, where simple works, the Mims father and son team still use some older reliable tractors continuing to serve the farm well, including two Farmall tractors that seem more fitting for display than actual farm work.
"Bigger isn’t always better, and when you need to get into tighter places or pull smaller equipment, some of our older tractors work just fine," Mims added.
And with that reverent nod to the past and a practical eye on the horizon, Mims finds the balance that keeps him happy working long days on the farm as he has for most of his life.
"I feel like I’ve seen the peak of change, and we can’t do anything from here but mess it up," he mused as he drove along in his pick-up truck checking cattle.
"I’m proud of the work Buddy and I are doing, and we take our responsibility of caring for the land seriously. People will need the food and fiber this land can produce long after I’m gone, and I want to make sure that’s still possible in the future," Mims concluded.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.