Combining a lifetime of commitment to agriculture with a lifetime of commitment to this community — Ken Briggs is being honored by the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District as its 2022 ‘Silver Star’ award winner.
Ken’s parents lived on his grandfather’s — Morris Briggs — farm.
“The Briggs farm was over between Moorefield and Pleasant where Kenny Riley lives now,” Briggs said. “My grandfather on my mother’s side died when I was three years old, and no one was available to run that farm, so dad moved over here and moved into my great-grandparents’ house. This was their farm originally, on my great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s side on my mother’s side.”
Ken said that farming has always been in his blood. He’s been on the farm his entire life with the exception of his time in the Army — and son Brad and his family now occupy the family farm, as well — keeping the farming heritage alive for future generations.
“I graduated from high school (Vevay High) in 1967,” Briggs said. “I worked for my uncle for a short time in construction, and then I went into the military for three years as a helicopter mechanic.”
We was honorably discharged from the Army on September 20th, 1971.
“You always remember that date,” Briggs laughed. “I remember the day I went in and I remember the day I got out.”
Living on the family farm, Briggs worked for a time after the service at Reliance Electric in Madison; doing farm work around his factory schedule.
Briggs’s father and grandfather were involved in dairy production.
“All of the Briggs’s always milked cows — we were dairy,” Ken said. “My grandfather on my mother’s (McMakin) side, this was actually an apple orchard farm (where he currently lives). They grew apples and peaches and everything else. He would pick the apples and make cider and take it to Vevay and peddle it. He died in 1952 from cancer. On the Briggs side, my grandfather lived around where the Rileys live now and my great-grandfather lived just down that road. My great great-grandfather, he came here from Pennsylvania, and he lived over behind the Archer farm where Mike and Deb Archer live now. He had land and he was also a shop owner.”
Ken said that his father did away with the orchards when the family moved onto the property, and from there they began milking cows and growing tobacco.
“This much hillier ground here,” Briggs said of his family. “It’s not the flat ground that would allow row crops. We raked a lot of hay and raised cattle. When dad moved here, he didn’t want to deal with the orchard. The trees were getting old and weren’t producing like they once were.”
Briggs said that — at it’s height — the family was milking 40 head of cattle.
“That’s not much nowadays,” he said. “But back then, one man milking 40 cows and raising five acres of tobacco was quite a bit. It kept us busy. Dad started getting me up when I was 12 years old to go after the cows every morning. I just enjoyed it. I didn’t think much about doing anything else. I just enjoyed that. Everybody thinks I’m crazy — but I enjoyed it.”
Ken said from that time, a normal day through the week involved getting up to help with the milking; then it was off to school; then return home to do other farm chores and again help with the milking.
“It was just always busy — especially on Saturdays,” he said. “You get home and there was plenty to do. That’s just the way life was back then.”
Much like working in the dairy; tobacco was also a big part of Ken’s early life.
“I’ve just always done it,” he said. “I was on the tobacco setter when I was 12; and I was probably driving the tractor when I was 12 or 13. I just always worked in it. It was a lot different than it is nowadays. We could make a decent living and pay our farms off.”
Ken was married to Brenda Briggs and the couple had a son, Brad. She was teaching here at Switzerland County — starting in 1970 — and they were happily married until Brenda passed away in 2014.
Son Brad now teaches agriculture at Jennings County High School; and his wife, Amanda, teaches agriculture at Madison Consolidated High School. Ken has two grandchildren: grandson Michael is 13; while granddaughter Allison is six. Brad and his family live on the family farm here — choosing family farming heritage over their long commutes to work on a daily basis.
That also means grandpa Ken gets to be — very happily — involved in picking his grandkids up from school and other things during the day. He stays busy bringing in hay to feed the cattle to take some of the burden off of Brad when he gets home from his day of teaching. He also is a faithful step-son to Joy Briggs — whom he cherishes for the role that she has played in his life, visiting her in a nursing home as she deals with dementia.
Throughout his life here, Ken has also been an active part of the Switzerland County community.
He served 12 years on the Switzerland County School Board; was a member of the Switzerland County 4-H Fair Board for about five years — noting that Brenda served on the fair board for over 25 years — and Ken’s grandmother was also on the 4-H Board when it first began the program here in the county.
He has served two stints on the Board of Governors of the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District; and he has taken advantage of several of the programs that SWCD offers to help members of the agriculture community here.
“We’ve used them in the last 10-12 years for feeding pads to keep cows out of the mud; and seeding and waterers,” he said. “They’ve always been helpful to us.”
And as he prepares to receive his award, Ken Briggs not only looks back with pride, but looks to the future with a sense of accomplishment.
“I’m proud, obviously,” Ken says of the Silver Star award. “I’m proud of my farm and how I’ve kept it. My farm I thought always looked good. I’ve had compliments on it in my lifetime. I don’t have a lot of erosion and things like that. I try and keep it so the soil doesn’t wash away. We have to protect it — I believe in that. We’ve got to leave it for the next generation.”