HONAKER HOUSE FARM — DEAN PRATT
As a boy growing up in a farming family in the Draper area of Pulaski County, it was only natural that young Dean Pratt would become actively involved in his surroundings at a very early age. Like most children of that time, he probably helped with various chores, many of which were related to farming, as a natural part of growing up.
Dean recalls starting to deal with the animals on the farm in a hands-on manner by raising “bottle baby” (bottle fed) calves on the farm which was run at that time by his father. As these calves grew and were sold, he used the proceeds to acquire more calves. Doing this probably contributed greatly to the business acumen and work ethic that he displays as a successful farmer today on a much larger scale.
The next stage of his farming evolved naturally as he acquired more calves and his grandfather told him he could keep all his calves “up on the hill” near the house where he lived. So his herd continued to expand then be sold with the proceeds used to acquire more calves……on and on it went. His farming heritage, however, goes back much further than his father and grandfather.
Dean Pratt now operates a farm of 1,150 acres (a combination of owned and leased land), and is the 9th generation to farm the land that has been in his family since 1784! He and his wife, Terri, own/operate Honaker House Farm today. He did not offer to tell nor did this writer inquire during the interview how many animals he currently has on the farm. Writing this series has already been educational in many ways, including the etiquette of talking with farmers. Most non-farmers probably don’t think of this, but if a person knows how much beef cattle, for example, is bringing in the current market, then asking a farmer how many animals he has can be viewed in the same way as asking a non-farmer how much salary he is being paid! It would require doing some math, but you can see the point.
Although the land used to be correctly called a farm because crops were being grown to be sold along with the animals, it could be technically referred to as a ranch today because no crops are grown for sale. These designations between “ranch” and “farm” are mostly made in the western part of the country, with easterners basically calling them all farms. Pratt’s main operation is raising beef cattle with the only crops being grown (hay, grass, alfalfa) as feed for the cattle and not for sale.
Talking about the Honaker House Farm evolved into a fascinating history lesson which is too involved to include in this article, but which shows a great deal about the proud heritage which was built on this land. Henry Honaker’s father came to this country from Switzerland and bought the first property in Draper’s Valley. The Honakers were Dean’s great grandmother’s people. Henry Honaker built Honaker House on the land that had been purchased by his father when he came from Switzerland. The Honaker House, a stone house having been built in about 1804, is one of the oldest surviving two-story, double-pile brick structures in Pulaski County. The oversized rooms are each approximately 15’ x 17’ with soaring ceiling and include the kitchen, dining room, living room, family room (4th bedroom), three additional bedrooms and two baths.
Dean’s daughter currently owns and is living in Honaker House (which gives him the right to retain the name of Honaker House Farm) and has invested in upgrading the house. Updates include a new downstairs bathroom, laundry facilities upstairs, front porch, new gas furnace downstairs, new hot water heater, refinished hardwood floors, new paint, and new back porch shingles. The home is 3,600 square feet.
Although Pratt believes that there was probably an earlier home, perhaps a log cabin, on the land, Honaker House is now one of the special features due to its age and impressive structure. Another of the special features remaining on the farm is what they call “the smokehouse.” Although it was used at some point to smoke and store meat, it was originally built as a blockhouse for protection years before the house was built in 1804. The walls of this structure are two feet thick with holes to shoot through on the inside with narrow into slits on the outside.
The actual day-to-day operations of the farm are performed by Dean Pratt himself, a cousin which works on the farm full-time, and an 85 year-old gentleman that, in addition to at one time working at an industry outside the farm, has worked for Pratt and his ancestors for five generations.
It is no wonder that he is viewed as being “like family.” The beef cattle produced on Honaker House Farm are mainly sold locally and/or to a livestock market in Dublin or Wytheville.. At one time, Pratt engaged in a practice called “retained ownership.”
This practice, which he no longer uses, involved trucking the cattle out to the Midwest feed lots, which contracted to feed the cattle, then deliver them to the slaughterhouse at the appropriate time. The middle-man was effectively cut out in this arrangement, with Pratt being paid for the cattle based on grade and yield. He has not used this arrangement for quite a while, but it remains as a way to sell if needed.
When asked how his farm operations are different than when he first started, Pratt replied that more and bigger equipment is needed now than in the past, but that he must still remain frugal about it. It is also necessary to farm on a larger scale to make a living or even to survive as a farmer. For most of his life, Pratt worked at least two other jobs “to support my farming habit.” He finally got to the point that he only worked the farm for three or four years, then about thirteen years ago he ran for and was elected to the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
His response to the inquiry about what he considers the key element to success in the agriculture industry, Pratt, in his usual thoughtful and deliberative manner, stated, “you have to produce a quality product that people want but you have to do it economically, spending money wisely.” He cautioned against just producing the product cheaply as that mind-set causes the quality of the product to suffer.
Having his farm located in Pulaski County offers Pratt at least two major assets: first of all, he receives support from his family and the community; secondly, he believes that Pulaski County has a good climate with mild winters, which makes it easier to farm here than in some other places that have more extreme weather.
When Pratt is asked the question, “how’s farming?”, his standard reply is “plenty of work.” He concluded the interview with this thought, “I really appreciate my ancestors’ passing down the land and the heritage they did which gave me the chance to make a living while living my dream.” His dream job, just in case anyone has any remaining doubts, is farming, which is obvious to anyone that talks to him about it. He is happy and proud to carry on the farming tradition of his ancestors. He plans to leave the farm to his children and really hopes that they will keep the land and carry on the farming tradition that is such a major part in the family’s proud heritage.