This article was written by Mr. Cecil E. Darnell of Mason, Michigan. Cecil is a renowned author and is active in both the Draft Horse Industry and the Barn Preservation Society. It has appeared in the Farmer's Advance, The Ingham County Farm Bureau News and The Weekly Pride newspaper from Stockbridge, Michigan. Thank you very much Mr. Darnell.
Omega Farms Happenings
by Cecil E. Darnell
Of course you remember Omega Farms. Their long running concrete fences along M-52 and Grand River Avenue in Williamston, Michigan, hinting at the rural enterprise going on behind them. Angus cattle could be seen peeking through those fences at folks traveling past. Cattle have a natural curiosity that makes them do such things and Angus are no exception.
Clifford Simmons gives us a glimpse of Omega Farms in 2009 and upcoming projects. Omega Farms encompasses nearly 4000 acres of Mid-Michigan real estate. Cliff mentions that in preparation for the current farm movement, they evaluated every acre of the farm in an attempt to determine just what the Almighty might have expected to be the best use for each parcel.
There are a couple dozen barns on the property; nearly half of them have been restored to a farm use level. Others are scheduled for restoration over that next few years.
“We are all stewards, but we do not always recognize this,” Clifford Simmons observes, as ￼he talks about Omega Farms. Anything that has any meaningful depth must stretch beyond a single generation. The pieces that are in place to assist the handing of power from one generation to the next becomes the real test of wisdom.
Omega Farms has three of their foundation bulls honored by life sized photos displayed in their sale barn on the premises. Two of the foundation bulls, Mr. Marshall and Ballot of Belladrum are buried beside the entrance sidewalk to the sale barn.
There are stories within the stories when chasing the history of events surrounding stewards. Clifford mentions the purchase of one of their foundation bulls. His Father bought him in Scotland. He came to America by ship. The herdsman from the Scottish farm rode over with the animal. That herdsman then stayed and worked on the Williamston (MI) farm. Eventually, Clifford’s parents stood up with the herdsman and his family when they became citizens of this, their new country.
The tale of Omega Farms (which begins in 1965) has seeds in a number of family names that had worked the land as it developed into the entity it has become. Now emphasis is aimed toward building a farm brand logo known to those who care; a symbol that projects a quality product, and superior taste that immediately comes to mind when the Omega logo is seen. With the legislation from recent years, this instant quality recognition seems to be even more important than in the olden days when more of our nation’s food was produced domestically. What value does a quality food have for parents shopping for their families? Omega value, we suspect.
Some of that fencing that people will remember is being incorporated into the dressing of the grounds along the Grand River Avenue facility as a part of the updating of Omega.
Actually the idea for the concrete fences was picked up by the owner of the property (before it was Omega) while visiting Kentucky horse country. However, horses and cattle treat fences differently. The early fences had three rails. Those worked fine for horses, but cows would poke their heads through the rails to reach grass on the other side. While poking their heads through the fence they would break the middle rail and it would just fall to the ground once broken. Then a cow would just wander out of the pasture and eat wherever she pleased.
￼Adding a fourth rail to the fence addressed the problem with the cattle. Early on it was discovered that making the cement was more economical than buying them and shipping them in. It is a good thing too, just think about how many of those fence rails (along with cement posts) would be required to surround 4000 acres. There is a 1975 visual mounted in the farm offices showing the reaches of Omega Farms. In the day the picture was created it was a revolutionary idea. Today such an overhead shot would be a couple of clicks from an orbiting camera.
“My father was a good teacher. My Mother and Father, Ruth and Steven Simmons, started the farm in 1965. I have been born and raised working on Omega. My early memories are from taking on the showing of cattle. Getting them ready for shows, moving them in and out, and looking after them.” That whole steward thing fit Clifford’s status and ability at the time. Michigan State University has a strong tie to Omega Farms, the location, the focus of the University, similar interests... it is little wonder that Omega has a bus with the farm logo on it that shows up at Spartan football games most Saturdays over the past thirty years. The University and Omega Farms has worked on a collaborative project on sustainable agriculture for over twenty years.￼In 1990 Omega purchased a 1200 acre ranch in Council Grove, Kansas and moved the live cattle operation there. The operation was located about 120 miles west of Kansas City. Until last December, there had not been any cattle on the Michigan land in some 18 years. December saw Omega return some seed cattle back and began work on the Omega brand. The difficulty in efficiently operating the beef operation (in Kansas) and the cash crop activities in Michigan brought about more change. The Kansas ranch was sold in the spring of 2008.
The current direction of Omega Farms is tied to the death of Clifford’s father, Steven, in October of 2007. Going back to basics and the tenants that Steven used in starting the farm and successfully running it for years are the direction today, and that makes a lot of sense. That is their flagship direction. Clifford and his sister Christine West are now co-owners of Omega just as their parents had envisioned. As the original farm grew, there have been so many associations and partnerships with people that we missed when we were so spread out. Whoever thought that being a steward was an easy assignment never really tried it.
Omega Farms was at an appropriate point for reviewing the entire operation. There is something about thinking that can lead to change. Often change can set the stage for doing things better. “Bringing back the Angus cattle is one of the steps evolving out of this entire philosophical revue that nudged us in the direction that we are now heading.” Cliff Simmons observed.
This is the thinking that has led us to converting a lot of the acres into conservation areas. We believe that such thinking is good for us, the community, the land and the future of Omega Farms and that seems to be what stewarding is about in the scheme of things.
￼This thinking is also what encouraged us to take another look at the buildings. We decided to either restore them or take them down. This has been a great boost to the barn restoration activity. We are having a ball with this. What we do is instantly visible and everyone notices. We have done restorations on eight barns and two houses on the Grand River Farm and have another dozen buildings left yet to do. We have invested a lot of money in the process so far, but we are preserving a visible history and it is difficult to put a value on that.
The future is bright for Omega Farms. Clifford and Christine are taking the life lessons learned from their visionary parents and applying them to today’s agribusiness climate. Visitors are always welcomed at Omega....either in person, or on their website.