An Introduction to Gibralter Farms and Our Dream of Increasing Your Connection to Food

Hello and welcome. As we look forward to learning about you and your family, we wanted to share the story of our family and the land we care for. The full history of this land extends far beyond our family, being the territory of the Iowa, Sauk and Meskwaki, and Sioux nations, and we are working to more fully research and acknowledge that history. For now, this is our small part of it.

We are John and Sarah Gilbert, the 5th generation of Gilberts to live on, farm, and care for land in Hardin County in central Iowa. Along with John’s parents, John W. and Beverly, we operate Gibralter Farms, a name chosen by John’s grandfather when he first registered his Brown Swiss dairy cows in the early 1930’s. Why he chose this name is a bit up for interpretation, but mostly comes down to a similarity to Gilbert and him liking the sound of the name. He also made sure to change the -ar at the end to -er to make it different and unique so as not to be confused with the Strait of, Rock of, or British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and at the demarcation point between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.  The concept of being different and unique may come up again as a theme when describing our farm, but, like the Rock of Gibraltar, the farm has stood the test of time, being farmed by our family for 122 years as of 2021.

Upper right, black and white picture of John's grandparents Bill and Mary, Lower picture: Bill with brown swiss cow Lorna and Minneapolis Moline Tractors
Upper Right: Bill and Mary Gilbert (John’s grandparents); Bottom: Bill with cow Lorna

The farm has seen a lot of history, from the initial development of farms and rural infrastructure in the early 1900’s to the trials of the Great Depression to a trip by John’s grandfather Bill to the Pacific Ocean for World War II and a case of polio on his return. The mechanization and technological changes after World War II spurred significant changes in farming and also a steady decline in the number of farmers and farms, hastened by the farm crisis of the 1980’s and further continued by specialization and livestock confinement systems in the 90’s and 2000’s. Through it all, the farm has continued through the respect and care for the land and livestock and no small amount of hard work. From the early days when John’s great-great grandmother sold tubs of butter, dairy cows were an integral part of the farm. 

Asahel and Loretta Gilbert arrived in Hardin County on March 14, 1874 in a covered wagon with two mules, one cow, and two children. The day after arriving, a third child was born, Charles, John’s great grandfather. They lived the life of pioneers, enduring hardships, and eventually moving to a farm near our current location. They grew their herd of dairy cows up to 35 head, hand milking them, separating the cream, and churning the cream into butter. This butter was put in 60 lb. tubs and shipped by railroad to Chicago, sometimes bringing as much as $20 per tub, enough to buy an acre of land at that time.

(Pictured: Asahel and Loretta Gilbert with Sons Rudolphus, Charles, Myron, and daughter Willa)

Late 1800's photo of John's family

Milk truck parked on farm
When we sold milk, the milk truck would come every other day and haul milk from our and other farms to the processing plant.

Through much of the last century, the farm has milked a herd of primarily Brown Swiss cows, selling milk through dairy cooperatives to be processed into cheese, yogurt, and other products. On January 16, 2021, a majority of the milk cows were sold to a beginning farmer and have found a good home near Rochester, Minnesota.  We have retained a few cows to milk, and are using the milk to feed dairy steers that are then transitioned to a diet of pasture, forage, and grain and grown to market weight to provide beef for our new marketing venture.

While letting go of cows we had named, raised, and cared for deeply was difficult, the change has allowed us to pursue our dream of more directly connecting people to food. Since returning to the farm in 2010, along with learning the ins and outs of farming, we’ve also been planning to provide great food while assisting with how to prepare and cook the food into healthy and delicious meals.

We are grateful that you have found us and that we have the opportunity to connect with you as the newest chapter in the history of Gibralter Farms is written. 

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A Brief History of Food