Century Farms; The Tanner Farm, Warren, Connecticut

By , Special to the Christian Science Monitor

There's not much to Warren, just a cherry red general store, a quaint country church, and a standard US mail box. That's about it. The air is sifted with the sweet smell of just-harvested hay; outlying fields are dotted with heaps rolled up like oversize bales of shredded wheat.

A dirt ''main'' highway on the outskirts of town leads to a local legend. Around the bend, just before Rabbit Hill Road, sits an ordinary-looking white farmhouse - built on land whose lease is due to run out in the year 2768.

This is the Tanner farm, and the story goes that in 1784 - exactly two centuries ago - a far-seeing pioneer by the name of Ebenezer Tanner ventured into the valley after having served as a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. A descendant of Thomas Tanner (a member of the Roger Williams colony in Rhode Island), Ebenezer obtained a partially elapsed 999-year lease from Yale College on 104 acres of land.

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Today, tractors rumble over the acreage, tilling and sowing fields the Tanner ancestors once planted by hand. Lumbering tank trucks gorge on fresh milk where individual bottles were once loaded onto horse-drawn wagons. But despite changes , the history of the place remains intact.

''They had to take it to the train station,'' the present owner, Bernard Tanner, recollects, giving a smidgen of dairy farm history. ''Milk used to go to Washington, Connecticut - the Washington Depot, they called it - and it went to New York from there . . . to Borden dairy.'' A trail of ''Yeps'' nip the heels of his words.

Bernard, a solid, vigorous man in his middle years, represents the seventh generation in the Tanner legacy. He's an early-rising, no-nonsense, unflagging farmer who allots himself only two half days a month of reprieve from his 180 Holsteins and 90 heifers. He manages 300 acres of farmland and a daily milk production of three to four tons.

For Bernard, there was never much question of following his forefathers' tradition of farming the Tanner land.

''The only other thing I could think of was (becoming) a truck driver, but you know that was just a boy's idea,'' he says in his characteristically matter-of-fact way. ''There's nothing else I could ever think of wanting to do.''

Yet, a penchant for Warren town government has periodically lured him into a kind of second career. He has served as the fire chief, chairman of the board of finance for 17 years, and is at present second selectman. His wife, son, and daughter-in-law take active roles too.

But such involvement in local affairs doesn't break new ground, so to speak, around the Tanner homestead. Town records show that the Tanners have filled government offices since the days of great-great-great-grandfather Ebenezer.

One might say this little town has been infested with Tanners for the past two centuries. In fact, about 20 years ago the area was dubbed ''Tannerville.'' As Bernard notes, ''There were 13 families right in this area here.''

Over the years, the Tanner population has dwindled, and there's some doubt that Bernard's farm will continue its legacy into the next century. The dairy business has been tough over the years. And although Bernard's son, Terry, plans to acquire the farm, Bernard is skeptical about future generations remaining on the land.

''Yeah, I'm kinda worried about it,'' he says, his voice tinged with gravity, ''because I don't know whether (Terry's) sons are going to be ready to go with it or not.''

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