An inside look at a Black-owned heritage farm

Western family celebrates 160 years of landownership in Iowa


The Western family farm is a rare gem—a heritage farm, with a rich history that unfolds across generations.

To be classified as a “heritage farm,” a family must own at least 40 acres, and the land must have been held within the same family for 150 years or more. There are approximately 1,700 heritage farms in Iowa, and likely only one owned by a Black family—the Westerns.

A rich history

The legacy of the Western family farm dates back to the emancipation of their ancestors from slavery in Virginia. In 1864, Thomas Western purchased 160 acres of land in New Sharon, Iowa, laying the foundation for cattle and farming.

In 1968, Todd Western Sr. owned the farm, and his son, Todd Western Jr., frequently assisted with its upkeep. However, when Todd Western Jr. and his wife, Barbara, moved to Waterloo, Iowa, which was two hours away, it became challenging to help.

Todd started working as a process engineer and even made history as the first Black supervisor at John Deere Waterloo Works. Despite finding fulfilling work, Barbara recalls how, “He was homesick for farming. He wanted to stay close to his roots.” Consequently, Todd purchased 35 acres of farmland in Waterloo.

Six years later, Todd and Barbara assumed ownership of the New Sharon land following Todd's father's passing.

Some people visit cemeteries to think of their loved ones. I like to come out here to think of my dad. 

Christopher Western, referring to working on his late father's farm in Waterloo, Iowa.

A legacy for generations

Today, Barbara is the landowner of both properties. Since the family no longer lives in New Sharon, Barbara leases the original farmstead, and instead, grows corn and soybeans in Waterloo with the help of her three children Adam, Christopher, Todd III, and grandson Todd IV.

Todd III and Christopher explained how they feel close to their father when they farm, “Some people visit cemeteries to think of their loved ones,” Christopher Western said. “I like to come out here to think of my dad.”

Looking ahead, the family envisions their legacy impacting future generations and fostering a sense of pride and belonging within the farming community. “In the future, the children will feel like they’re part of society,” Barbara explains. “We have land. It’s not a great big piece of land, but we’re part of a farming society.”