CENTREVILLE — Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford joined state and local dignitaries from the Eastern Shore Wednesday, Aug. 14, to honor the Higgs family following their selection by the county as the Farm Family of the Year.
Three generations of the Higgs family gathered at 4-H Park during the Queen Anne’s County Fair to receive citations from: Gov. Larry Hogan; Rep. Andy Harris, R-MD-1st; Sen. Steve Hershey, R-MD-36; Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s; Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent; Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caroline; Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran; and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
The deep roots of that family are Tommy and Beth Higgs who met at Higgs family pool. After a courtship, the pair married and have been together for 43 years.
Tom Higgs was unable to attend the event due to a medical issue.
“This crowd tonight was really our family and those who weren’t were pretty close to it,” said Chris Higgs, one of couple’s three sons. “Farm life has always been about that, and you can’t get better than that. All of us, including our children, have been raised in a farm family and I still farm, and my kids are going to grow up working in the chicken houses just like we did.”
He went on to say that despite the challenges modern farmers face, it is still gratifying to continue the legacy started decades ago.
The Higgs family has a long history of working with county 4-H Clubs that started long before volunteering at the Queen Anne’s County Fair. For many in the Higgs family, working on the farm was a way of life and passing the importance of that on to the young generation was as well.
Tom and his family worked at the family farm, the Higgs Brothers Dairy till 2007 where they have since transitioned their 1,000-acre farm from dairy cows to beef cows.
“Our heritage is of the land and the water and it’s important that we keep that going,” said Rutherford. “Agriculture is our largest industry, and we need to support them (farmers) because they protect the environment and they care for the open space and the Chesapeake Bay. Also we need make sure that our regulations aren’t designed to hurt our family farms.”
The Higgs family initially started fair staples like the Greased Pig Contest and emceed the Tricycle Race and Pedal Pull.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioners selected the Higgs family as the Farm Family of the Year on the basis of their continuing the tradition of farming and the using agriculture as a means of engaging the community at events like the county fair. The MDA and the Governor’s Office added their support.
“The bottom line is we need to support farmers like the Higgs family. We need to let our farmers succeed since they’re the most efficient producers in the world. If we unleash their productivity, we’ll be the best in the world,” said Harris.
During the presentations, the family was also honored for being a pillar of the agricultural community and one that maintains a way of life that has been a staple of the Eastern Shore.
“The $750,000 the county put in to preserving farms last year returned $5 million in matching funds, so supporting our farmers is huge. That’s another 30,000 acres preserved in Queen Anne’s County,” said Moran.
Moran continued saying the agriculture is the county’s top business and will continue to be given the investment to stave off over-development.
“We have some of the richest soil on the eastern seaboard and farmers produce crop yields that are astronomical,” Moran said.
Higgs Family History
Beth’s maiden name was Shortall; the Shortall family farmed in Talbot County near Tunis Mills until her grandfather Shortall met Beth’s grandmother and they moved to Queen Anne’s County, near the town of Ruthsburg, to begin their own operation. The Shortall family milked cows until around 1963, then decided to sell the cows and build chicken houses. The chicken houses were built on a farm where Tommy and Beth’s son, Chris and daughter-in-law, Sarah, now live. Beth, her three sisters and brother all played in the barn during milking time, but she said she wasn’t strong enough to pick up the milk buckets because they were “just too heavy.”
Beth’s father, Dan, always volunteered at the 4-H Fair either on the board, helping with projects, and starting the pedal pull around 40 years ago. Dan brought in a few pedal tractors for the kids to pull a weighted sled. Dan turned the tractor pull over to Tommy 35 years ago; Tommy built more tractors for the adults along with a pulling sled. It is one of the most popular events at the Fair.
Tommy’s mother, Dorothy Eck, lived in Baltimore County, where her family farmed. Her brother bought a farm in Queen Anne’s County, where they milked cows. The Ecks would milk the cows and then jump on a two-seater plane and fly back to Baltimore County to farm there. Tommy’s father, Eugene, was in the Navy, then worked at Bethlehem Steel when he met Dorothy. They bought the farm in the 1950s, where Tommy and Beth live now. The farm is directly across the road from where Dorothy’s brother Carl lived and milked cows.
There were five brothers that worked on Higgs Brothers dairy, William, Eugene, Clifford, Tommy and Mike. In an unfortunate farm accident, William perished; the remaining four brothers continued the dairy operation until 2007. The brothers farm about 1,000 acres and have transitioned over to raising beef cows.
Tommy and Beth met at the Higgs family pool. Beth was friends with Tommy’s cousin Sharon. They both were involved in 4-H growing up and both knew what it was like growing up milking cows. Their first date was going bowling and, of course ,Tommy said he let Beth win.
They have been married 43 years and raised three sons, Todd (Christy), Chris (Sarah) and Adam (Ashley).
“Our family is our proudest accomplishment. We have raised three good sons, and we are still happy with each other,” Beth said with a smile.
They said they remember all of the fun they had at the fair with the outhouse races, combine demolition derby, tractor pulls and just being around other 4-H families. The Higgs family tradition continues at the Fair, hosting and emceeing the tricycles race and pedal pull, listening to the crowd cheering on the little kids and “big kids” in the tricycle races makes for a great evening, they said.
Tommy and Beth both said they would not change living on the farm. Tommy called himself the man behind the wrenches. There is always something to be worked on, greased up or cleaned up.
Tommy said, “I’m grateful for being able to work with my brothers and watching how the farm has changed over time. The weather has been the most challenging thing to deal with over the years, but I’m glad we can’t control that.”
“We have both enjoyed the farm and raising our family here,” Beth said.
Donna Landis-Smith wrote the Higgs Family History part of this article.