Tucked away at the end of a dead-end road in western Bellevue, the Jones family farm is a reminder of how quickly Sarpy County is growing. As cities and suburbs have bloomed around it, the farm has remained, a hidden pocket of rural life.

But the future of this bucolic haven for farm animals and 4-H families is uncertain now that the farm has been annexed into Bellevue.

The 40-acre property near 32nd Street and Chandler Road West is more than a humble family farm. From the crack of dawn to twilight’s end, the farm bustles with the energy of young 4-H members learning about animals, agriculture and the life lessons that accompany both: leadership, confidence and responsibility.

“It’s so good for the kids,” said Tracey Jones, the farm’s matriarch and a leader of the group. “It teaches them life skills. It teaches them about agriculture and the importance of agriculture. And then they learn to be aggressive.”

This particular 4-H club, the “Country Bumpkins,” has been around since Tracey Jones’ father founded the group in 1981. The farmland itself — home to parents Jack and Tracey and their children, Catherine, 22, and Jacob, 17 — has been in the family since 1920.

In April, the City Council passed an annexation package that brought 500 people into the city, including the Jones farm. Now, not only will the family pay city taxes, but under state law, the land loses its greenbelt tax status, which protects farmland near urban areas by valuing the land on its agricultural worth instead of what it would be worth if sold and developed.

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Tracey Jones, right, teaches 4-H kids. The Country Bumpkins club was founded in 1981, and the farmland has been in the family since 1920. The farm is mostly self-sustaining, but the tax increase won’t be manageable, Jones said.

Before the annexation, the Jones family paid about $10,000 a year in property taxes. Tracey Jones estimates that they now will owe an additional $7,000 to $8,000.

The farm is mostly self-sustaining. The family produces enough hay to feed the dozens of pigs, lambs, goats and horses that occupy the land. But Tracey, an Omaha Public Schools teacher, and Jack, who works at an OPS distribution center, say the cost increase won’t be manageable down the line.

On a cool evening earlier this month, a dozen members of the Country Bumpkins gathered to practice controlling their pygmy goats, lambs, pigs and Boer goats, demonstrating both what they’re learning and what could be lost if the farm weren’t around.

Learning to “show” an animal in front of competition judges, who evaluate the animal and the showmanship of the presenter, takes a lot of practice. Grace Turner, 17, explained some of the intricacies using her Boer goat, Goose.

The animal’s feet should form a perfect rectangle, and all four hooves should be squarely facing forward. Its head should be up and the animal should appear relaxed. While the 4-H member positions the animal, the competitor is expected to make eye contact with the judge.

“You’re in complete control,” Grace said.

The Central High School student has been in 4-H since she was a young girl. She was never an artistic or athletic person, she said, so 4-H has been a welcome alternative to learn and be social.

Her parents, Steve and Amy Turner, have watched their daughter turn into a confident leader.

“It’s really allowed her to grow,” Steve Turner said.

After the group practiced walking their animals in a controlled circle, Tracey Jones called out questions to the group. What’s the gestation period for goats and sheep? (Four months, four weeks and four days.) Why do goats and sheep have cloven feet? (To allow them to climb mountains.) What’s the name of the substance that mother goats and sheep produce for their newborns? (Colostrum.)

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Hannah Gruhlkey hugs her goat Griffin as he nibbles on her hair during a Country Bumpkin 4-H Club meeting at the Living Legend Farm on Wednesday.

Marissa Rolle’s hand shot up nearly every time Jones posed a question. Marissa, soon to be an eighth-grader at La Vista Middle School, said she studies animal facts whenever she has free time.

“My teachers are so blown away by how much I know,” she said.

The Country Bumpkins did what they could to fight the annexation. They showed up to meetings of the Bellevue Planning Commission and City Council, where Tracey Jones explained the impact 4-H has on the lives of its members. Her daughter Catherine Jones wrote the city a letter.

But cities don’t typically make special exceptions when annexations pass — it’s all or nothing. So the Jones family and several members of the Country Bumpkins were in the City Council chambers in late April, crying and holding one another as the final vote passed unanimously.

Mayor Rusty Hike and many of the council members spoke directly to the group that night, pledging that the city would do what it could to help the farm stay afloat. Some of the city’s suggestions to the Jones family include applying to be a nonprofit organization, becoming a conservation area or applying for grant money.

The Joneses are still figuring out which options to explore.

Councilman Don Preister, a noted environmentalist, said he struggled with the vote. On one hand, Preister said, he was conflicted about putting a financial burden on a farm and organization that he thinks provides an important community service.

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But, he said, annexation was inevitable as Bellevue continues to grow.

“In 27 years in office, that was one of the most difficult votes (I’ve faced),” Preister told The World-Herald.

Catherine Jones is a testament to the lessons and skills learned in 4-H. The recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate said the activity taught her to be a better public speaker, aided her path to college and helped her secure internships.

“They mean a lot to the farm,” she said of the most recent generation of 4-H kids. “This is home to them.”

Alyssia Martinez Wilkinson, whose children, Bre, Kilee and Logan, are in the Country Bumpkins, said the farm is important to many people.

“This is an awesome slice of heaven that we would not get without (the Jones family),” she said.

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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