The Luling Foundation was established in 1927 by Edgar B. Davis to teach diversity in agriculture and improve the lives of farm and ranch families in Caldwell, Gonzales, and Guadalupe Counties. These three counties are the Foundation's service area by Charter; however, over the last eighty-nine years, the Foundation's services have expanded throughout the state and even brought visitors from other countries.
Edgar B. Davis Before the Farm
Edgar B. Davis was born in Brockton, Massachusetts in 1873. By the age of thirty-five, he was an active official in the Walk Over Shoe Company and a millionaire. By 1910 Mr. Davis had half interest in the United States Rubber Company. By 1919 he was the largest individual stockholder in the U.S. Rubber Company and it's estimated that he had made in the area of three and one half million dollars in the rubber industry. At age 47, Mr. Davis retired from the rubber business. When his brother, Oscar, invested in oil leases in Caldwell County, Texas, Edgar was persuaded to travel to Texas and assume management for one-third interest in the profits. Thus, it was that Edgar B. Davis came to Luling, Texas and forever changed the course of the small, dusty town, strung along the railroad.
In less than two years of wildcatting, Mr. Davis had invested in six dry holes, spending his fortune in the process. He was forced to sell his belongings to continue drilling, but felt that he was being led by a Guiding Hand. He struck oil on his seventh well, and proceeded to find a way to give back to those who had helped him make his fortune. First, Davis threw a huge party for his employees and the citizens of Caldwell, Gonzales, and Guadalupe Counties. However, he had bigger plans. He set up clubhouses for the white and black citizens of Luling with athletic fields and amenities. The final part of his plan was The Luling Foundation Farm.
Setting up the Farm
One of the things that distressed Mr. Davis upon coming to Luling was the fact that the local farmers seemed to be at the mercy of all the evils associated with a one-crop agricultural system. Accordingly, he proposed to establish a trust of $1,000,000 to set up a model farm and show, by example, what could be accomplished through diversified farming. He felt that this would provide insurance against low prices of any one commodity, as well as put the land to better use. In the summer of 1926, Davis bought 1,223 acres of an old cotton plantation for the Farm.
Having read about Davis' plans, Edwin Kyle, Dean of the School of Agriculture at Texas A&M College, wrote to Davis offering support from his entire staff at A&M. Davis took him up on the offer; Kyle assisted in setting policy for the Farm and became a member of the original Board of Trustees. Other Trustees were Dr. Francis, a Luling physician, as Chairman; Clyde Boothe of Gonzales County; Judge C.H. Donegan of Guadalupe County; Walter Cardwell of Luling; Dean Kyle of College Station; A.J. McKean, Sr. of Luling; and Mr. Davis. Jack Shelton became the General Manager.
The management decided on a simple approach; nothing would be practiced that any farmer could not follow on his own land. Mr. Davis' stated philosophy was, "as a demonstration farm we must demonstrate how to make money. We may spend all earnings and income on educational work, but the business part of The Luling Foundation would be kept on a money-making basis."
A Developing Story
With this in mind, work began to make the old cotton plantation a diversified demonstration farm. The management began with the land itself, as it was the very basis for sustaining life. There were eighteen types of soil on the place, and many acres were either abandoned or put to poor use. Workers started planning, fencing, and terracing the rolling land. Sodding was provided to minimize soil and water loss. Row crops and forages were planted, and a livestock program was initiated. At the center of this program was the award-winning dairy operation. The Farm pioneered artificial insemination within the dairy herd, and the Farm was one of the first facilities in Texas to produce pasteurized milk. Additionally, a bull testing program was offered to help local producers improve the quality of their herds through education.Through the years, featured projects have included chickens, turkeys, swine, and sheep.
In 1937, Manager Walter Cardwell brought to the Board of Trustees a plan for a freezer locker plant like the one he had visited in Idaho. The idea was to provide local producers a place where they could process, store, and market their products for sale. Slaughter services were provided, and individual freezer lockers were rented to the public for storage. Mr. Cardwell told the Board of Trustees, "I believe that the Locker Plant had done more than anything else to sell The Luling Foundation to the public." Indeed, the locker plant was a tremendous asset to the community and something everyone could benefit from, especially as the country was just coming out of Depression. As home freezers became accessible, however, the locker plant outlived its purpose and was sold.
As a main objective of Mr. Davis' was to provide education to the public, field days and schools have been a large part of the Farm's history. In the past, annual short courses were conducted but later discontinued because of duplication at A&M. In 1934, a training school for boys was established at the Farm. A mess hall, living quarters, and classrooms were built. Students lived on site, worked on the Farm, and attended night classes to gain practical education. The desire of the Foundation was to upgrade the lives of farmers of the future through the education of farmers today. WWII marked the end of the school for boys, but a similar school was instituted after the war for veterans.
Annual field days are still held on the Farm. They feature tours of specific operations on the Farm, from the low-stress cattle facility, to large demonstrations like the solar-powered water well. Speakers at the Farm's field days range from experts on management practices, weather patterns, pest control, conservation, to agricultural laws. In addition to these annual field days, several topic-specific field days are hosted, often in cooperation with the AgriLife Extension service. They include water, pecan, and row crop field days among others.
Since its establishment, The Luling Foundation has demonstrated both good and bad agriculture practices. Perhaps the most important lesson The Foundation has offered has been to show the economic volatility in agriculture as demonstrations have come and gone. Through cooperative efforts with the private sector and major universities, The Luling Foundation will continue demonstrating ideas for profitable agriculture through educational opportunities and community service.
This information has been modified from the 1982 pamphlet, The Luling Foundation, by Zona Withers