There have been 17 presidents since, but Mr. Baker still lives on the Old Baker Farm, and is looking forward to his 101st Christmas.
I have had the privilege of spending two days on the farm over the last year. As I met with him the first time, it was a bright, crisp, beautiful, October day in 2008. We sat in the shadow of the old barn that he had helped to build in 1919. Like, Mr. Baker, the barn has stood the test of time and still seems to be in good shape.
Mr. Baker showed me a tree where he said that he killed 11 squirrels in one day. He tells me that his mom made the best squirrel dumplings one had ever tasted. I told him and can tell you with 100 percent certainty that, had I ever tasted his mother’s squirrel dumplings, they would have been the best that I ever had.
As our time of stories continued, we talked about everything from childhood to present days. I felt blessed to walk through a century with him. He reminisced to being a child. He told me about his family’s role in World War I. Mr. Baker tells me that he had four brothers to serve in World War I.
“Two of them were on the front line when the fighting stopped,” he said. “If they had been there one more day, they would have been dead.”
I was lucky to be able to return to the farm a little over a year later on another beautiful, fall day. The brisk air, the bright sun, and the orange leaves made the homemade kettle corn taste that much better. I went to the farm to have the pleasure of talking to Mr. Baker and peruse their selection of Christmas trees. Their trees were healthy and full and priced from $15 and up, based on the size. I also enjoyed handfuls of kettle corn, pork skins, boiled peanuts, and drinks.
Earl Baker is an amazing man. Over the years his life has been characterized by hard work, symbolized by his dedication to farm and family. Earl’s wife, Ida Ophelia Nixon Baker, passed in 1997, but he kept persevering and has remained a strong presence in the life of this three children, Ed, Larry, and Jerry. Before the primary focus of the farm became pumpkins and trees, Earl primarily farmed cotton. He also had 200,000 chickens at one time. He has farmed nearly every vegetable you can grow in Harpersville, Ala.
Earl is a man of faith and member of Harpersville United Methodist Church Maybe part of his purpose was to bless his family and this community. He has been a strong presence in his family. I was amazed when his daughter-in-law, Pam, stated, “I have been in this family for 39 years, and I have never seen him angry.” For me, I thought that comment alone was a testament to his strength, his spirit, and his tender heart.
The 200-year-old home still stands on the Old Baker Farm. Though he has moved into another house on the property, his entire life has been spent there. The farm was founded in 1899 when Earl Baker’s grandfather moved to Harpersville. Earl’s father moved to the farm in 1902, and Earl was born on the farm in 1909 as the 11th child. Earl is the only remaining sibling of the 14 Baker children. From his stories and memories, it is obvious that he as had a full and exciting life on the farm.
His contributions to the farm will also live years beyond Earl Baker. When he was 21, he cleared 10-acres of land with a pole-axe, a mule, and a box of matches. He said this was the hardest work he ever did. It sounds like he’s done a lot. Over the years, Earl has built 65 chicken houses by himself. His work, however, has not been limited to the farm—he helped to build Highway 280 with dump trucks, which is a gift that has been appreciated for years.
Mr. Baker’s exploits are legendary. In August of 2007, he helped hoe watermelons every morning. He also changed a tire on Highway 280 in 105 degree heat at the age of 98. And, considering that he hitchhiked to Auburn at the age of 87 to watch a football game, nothing much surprises me.
As an avid football fan, this was actually one of my favorite stories. Earl Baker, a longtime Auburn fan, was sad that he had three tickets to a South Carolina game and nobody to take him to the game. So he stood on 280 holding up the tickets, looking for some solution. It seemed that nobody who pulled over wanted to buy all three. So, he found someone who wanted to buy one ticket and would let him catch a ride to Auburn. His plan then became to sell one for money for food and drinks in the stadium, use the other to watch the game, and find someone who would drop him off in Harpersville on their way back to Birmingham.
And, yes, please remember that he was 87 when he undertook this adventure. But, Earl Baker is 100 years old and still has all of his original teeth, which in itself is unusual, so I guess this is symbolic of his amazing nature.
The family stays pretty busy maintaining all of the activities on the farm. During the current seasons, the focus is on Christmas Trees, which they have sold for 23 years. Along with the peanuts, kettle corn, and pork skins, they also do letters to Santa, hay rides by horse and wagon, horse rides, and pumpkins. During the year, they also offer tours for schools, instructional programs, and weekend events.
The Old Baker farm is located just minutes from Birmingham. Just take Hwy 280 East to Harpersville, turn right on Hwy 25 at the Harpersville traffic light, drive .4 mile and turn right on county rd 444, go one mile and the farm is on the left. They can be reached by phone at 205-672-7209, e-mail at email@example.com, or check them out on the web at www.oldbakerfarm.com.