For 240 years, Carroll farm dynasty has worked the land to its advantage Tradition faces uncertain future

October 04, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Schaeffers have farmed in Cranberry Valley since 1753. Along the way, they fought in the War of 1812, died in the Civil War, started businesses and were elected to city government posts. Some family members moved to town.

But mainly they farmed.

The tradition continues, but its future is uncertain. Edgar A. Schaeffer says his son, Noah L. Schaeffer, may be the family's last farmer. "This is just not farming country [anymore]. This is urban country," Edgar said.

Noah says his son, Jacob, 3, should be able to farm if he wants to -- if farming is still profitable when the boy is older. The youngster enjoys visiting the farm and riding tractors, Noah said. He tells his Dad he wants to be a farmer.

"When I was 3 years old, I was up here with Dad, too," Noah said.

Edgar and Noah are the seventh and eighth generations of a family whose legacy began 240 years ago -- 84 years before Carroll County was formed.

They farm almost 300 acres and raise a profitable Holstein herd on Flint Hill Farms in the 900 block of Sullivan Road outside Westminster. They plant corn, soybeans, wheat and barley on rolling hills that surround a narrow, two-story stone home built in the family's third generation.

A driveway winds around to neat, white barns. The fields roll into pastures where cows graze. The pastoral scene has attracted photographers filming commercials for oatmeal and other wholesome products.

The farm -- which includes 120 acres from the family patriarch's original settlement -- is in the state's permanent agriculture preservation program.

Edgar doesn't want his grandchildren to farm unless economic conditions change. "I'll give you four good reasons" young Jacob shouldn't farm, he said.

Fatal accidents while using farm equipment, uncertain weather, variable crop prices that don't keep pace with costs, and a perishable product that loses value as it sits in the bin all make farming a risky business, he said.

Many Maryland dairy farmers may be the last in their families to farm, said Robert R. Peters, a dairy specialist in the Animal Sciences Department of the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Maryland at College Park.

A nationwide trend is for dairy farmers to buy more land and expand their operations to become more profitable, he said. Development pressure has driven up the cost of land in Maryland, and many farmers can't afford to expand, he said.

Noah and Edgar Schaeffer said they have no plans to grow. When they hired their distant cousin, Keith Siegman, 30, of Manchester, two years ago, they increased the herd size by 15 percent to 20 percent, Noah Schaeffer said. Mr. Siegman is their only employee.

They milk about 75 cows a day. The animals produce about 174,000 gallons of milk a year, enough for almost 9,200 people.

Farmers in other parts of the country, especially California, have moved to less-developed areas to continue farming profitably, Mr. Peters said. They sell their land to developers, make a profit and buy farmland elsewhere.

Maryland farmers seem closer to their land and are less likely to do that, he said.

"Here we're more tied to the tradition of family farming," Mr. Peters said. "There's a lot of attachment to the land."

Noah Schaeffer's wife, Elizabeth, said she has suggested the family move to Pennsylvania to farm, but her husband refuses.

"It's either going to be here or nowhere," he said.

He said he respects the family history and added that it would be too much work to start over somewhere else.

"Noah will never leave. I don't want Jacob to feel like that," Elizabeth said. "I would like him [Jacob] to do whatever makes him happy. I think farming is a hard way of life."

The hours are long, vacations few, the work dirty, and the financial rewards not always immediate, the Schaeffers said.

But the lifestyle has its advantages.

"It's rewarding to be outside in the fresh air," Elizabeth said. "I enjoy being with the animals. And you never have any fear of running out of food."

A farm is a good place to raise a family because the children "have room to play and run," she said. "All the kids want to come over to our house."

Noah said he enjoys the physical labor and likes being his own boss. "I need to satisfy myself. It doesn't matter what other people think," he said.

80-hour work week

Noah, 33, runs the farm with help from Edgar, 71. The younger Mr. Schaeffer works 80 hours a week, including milking cows at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. He is tall with sandy hair and an easy manner. He plays the banjo, appreciates good cigars and enjoys going out some Monday nights to watch football on TV at a local pub.

He and Elizabeth have two children -- Jacob, 3, and Hannah, 1 1/2 . They are renting a house in Westminster while they finish building a home on a hill overlooking the farm.

The couple fit right into the Schaeffer family history. The two Noah Schaeffers born in the 1800s -- the fourth and sixth generations -- also married women named Elizabeth.

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