August 2018

Gifford Farm History

Gifford Farm is located in the largest remaining Oxbow (loop) of the Missouri River between Yankton, SD and St. Louis, MO. The 420 acre farm contains 280 acres of cropland, 140 acres of farmstead and woods. It is bordered on 3 sides, and 1300 acres, of Native woodlands known as Gifford Point and owned by NE Game and Parks. A small portion of Gifford Point includes some of the Fontenelle marshlands.

Nebraska land was originally occupied by Native American Nations such as the Otoe, Ponca and Omaha. In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed our land and camped on the east side of the Missouri River in what is now a part of the Gifford Croplands, then on the east side of the river. We like to think of it as a shared history between Nebraska and Iowa. The site they camped on from July 22 until July 27th was named Camp White Catfish. The name stemmed from the Corps fishing success, with corps member Silas Goodrich catching the first white catfish any member of the corps had ever seen. This camp was the first place our American flag was raised along the Missouri River. The camp was reoccupied on the return journey in 1806.

The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by Abraham Lincoln opened up 270 million acres of public land to be given freely to Homesteaders. Land was given to 1.6 million homesteaders including the land on Gifford Point. The land was settled by many homestead families receiving up to 160 acres, or a quarter section of land. 

Gifford Farm article from 1975
An article on the Gifford Family originally published by the Omaha World Herald in 1975.

In 1919, philanthropist Dr. Harold Gifford purchased all of Gifford Point as well as more land on the Iowa side of the river. Dr. Gifford’s son, Dr. Hal Gifford, inherited the land upon his father’s death. Drs’. Gifford and families did not ever live on the property but employed farm managers to farm the land for them. From 1957 until 1997 the farm managers were Bob and Marcy Mann. The Mann’s raised their family on the farm. As the children were growing up, Marcy had the opportunity to expand the offerings of the farm to include horse boarding, horseback riding and especially sharing the farm with children’s groups from churches and schools. Her vision of helping children learn about farming and realizing their farming history as Nebraskans inspired Dr. Hal Gifford to donate the farm to the State of Nebraska for educational purposes. Marcy began to share the farm with children on a more formal basis and, by developing the Farm Program, began the legacy of Gifford Farm. Marcy was the heart and soul of this program. Marcy and Bob remained on the farm until 1997, then retiring to their home of Springfield. Marcy passed away in 2017.

When this land became state property, a board called MEPA (Metropolitan Education Agency) was established to govern the Gifford Farm Project. The MEPA board dissolved in 1989 when ESU3, the current owners, took over the Farm.

Under the auspices of ESU3, the Gifford Farm educational programming has expanded to many more Outdoor Education Programs in the subject areas of Agriculture, History, Science, Astronomy, History, Nature and Team Building.

Gifford Farm is a great educational resource to our area, serving over 30,000 visitors per year, as well as a community resource to area families. Many festivals and open houses are held on the farm so that the community can share in this treasured gift.

 

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