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Paynesville Press - August 17, 2005

Century farm near Roscoe returning to
prairie roots

By Melissa Andrie

Land just outside of Roscoe that was recognized as a century farm this year has been in the Schaefers family for nearly a century and a half.

It is now owned by by Scott and Kate Schaefers of Shoreview, and - though no family members have called the land home since 1925 - it has been farmed continually since Hermann Schaefers moved onto the homestead 144 years ago.

scott The century farm program, run by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau, honors farms at least 50 acres in size that have been in one family for at least 100 years. Though the farm was first eligible 44 years ago, Scott didn't consider applying until a family friend mentioned the program. Then he kept it in the back of his mind to apply, while Kate took more direct action. She started filling out the paperwork, hoping to surprise Scott on his birthday with news that the process was complete. When Kate struggled with finding some of the dates she needed, the couple finished the application together.

Scott Schaefers, of Shoreview, stands in front of the former parlor on his family's century farm near Roscoe. The farm has been in his family for a century and a half, though no one has lived there since 1925.

Scott feels a connection to the land, which has "provided for generations of Schaefers." He is the fourth generation of the family to own it, yet the tie is not limited to the direct descendants. Kate "has taken on our passion for the land as well," said Scott, who is glad she shares his interest in the farm history. The couple also has a cabin on Rice Lake, and they come to the area once or twice a month, often with their daughters, Clare, 10, and Rachel, 8.

Currently, they are helping the land become a natural prairie site again, through the federal Conservation Reserve Program. Scott said the family would like to return the site to "what it was when Hermann came in the 1800s." Hermann, Scott's great-grandfather, immigrated from Germany, settling in Minnesota in 1856.

The family connection to the land began when he homesteaded 160 acres in 1861 and bought another 160 for only $125 that same year. A widow in Vermont had received that parcel as thanks for her husband's service in the War of 1812. She must have thought no one would want land way in the heart of Minnesota, so she sold it for only 78˘ an acre as soon as she got the offer, Scott said with a laugh.

time (2,000 and 2,200 pounds), to break the ground for crops. He upgraded from a sod house to a log cabin that he brought his wife, Gertrude, home to after they wed. In 1886 he built a two-story brick house, which still partially stands on the site. Scott's grandfather, father, and four uncles were all born in this house, which was nicely detailed for the time, said Scott. It was two and three bricks thick in places, and had a decorative window trim built with bricks of a different color.

farm house After sitting empty for only a short time, the log cabin was used as a schoolhouse, and many who taught in it boarded in the Schaefers' home. The nearest school had been between Roscoe and Richmond, which Hermann deemed too far for his children to travel, so he donated an acre of land along with the cabin for the school.

This brick house was built in 1886 on the Schaefers farm near Roscoe.

Hermann used his team of oxen, which Scott said he had raised to be the largest in the area at the Hermann passed the farm, with the house, barn, machine shed, chicken coop, and smokehouse that he had built himself, down to Scott's grandpa John, who raised his family there along with his wife Lillian. When the family got its first automobile, a Model T, John added a thick log to the back of the machine shop for his wife, who was afraid she would not be able to stop the car.

When his wife fell ill after their twin sons were born in 1925, the last of their five boys, they left the farm for St. Cloud. The boys who were old enough had been attending school in the cabin before the move. In fact, many of the schoolteachers had been boarded in the Schaefers' home, using the guest bedroom while the five boys shared another room.

Scott's uncle Harry, who used to ride into Roscoe to be a Mass server, remembered learning English when he started school in St. Cloud at age 12 or 13. In the home, the family spoke German, and it was also used to teach at the school in Roscoe, so he had never been exposed to English.

When Scott's dad and uncles were growing up on the farm, they milked 15 cows and raised another 15 head of cattle, 100 chickens, and a large flock of sheep. They also grew wheat and corn, which threshing crews helped harvest when they were in the area.

When John and Lillian left for St. Cloud, they rented the farm, and that has been done ever since. During some of that time, there was still livestock raised in the barn, while the renters lived in the house. Leo and Bob Leyendecker rented the land for over 30 years.

Renters changed, and the farm changed hands within the family as well. John gave equal shares to each of his five children: Harry, Clarence, Elvin, Jerry, and Earl. The land was eventually consolidated in the hands of Scott, son of Earl's twin, Jerry.

Though 60 acres were sold off, by his grandfather, Scott believes, about 260 of the original 320 acres are still together. At one point, seven acres, including the old farmhouse, had been sold to Leo Leyendecker. However, a fire gutted the house and the barn blew down, so Leo gave the family the opportunity to buy back the land. This was after the Paynesville Fire Department did a practice burn at the house, though, which is when the shell of it caved in, according to Scott.

farm boys Currently, about 90 acres of the land are being farmed. This year, soybeans are growing, and corn has been raised there for many years. Approximately 100 acres are already enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which allows participants to choose among several types of groundcover for their land. The Schaefers have chosen native prairie grasses and are waiting for them to take root and begin to show, which takes a few years.

Harry, Clarence, Elvin, Jerry, and Earl Schaefers played on the family farm near Roscoe in the 1920s, before the family moved to St. Cloud.

This federal program was begun to take land out of production, driving up crop and animal prices, and to protect water quality, by preventing land subject to erosion from being farmed. Perhaps not an original purpose of the program, but a great benefit nonetheless, is the habitat provided for wildlife, commented Scott. Over 34 million acres are registered in the program nationwide.

The remaining acreage includes the hillside, where the land has never been broken, and eventually, the entire farm will be in the Conservation Reserve Program, said Scott. Even the shell of the old farmhouse may be knocked down, for safety purposes.

The farm has challenged the Schaefers from the first year, especially Hermann, who saw a "plague of wild pigeons," destroy a great harvest in 1862, according to a book of family history. Cutworms thwarted his work the next year, and just a few summers after that, the entire area flooded so badly a raft was needed to reach the farm. Still, the family has gained much from the land and Scott felt it was "our obligationŠto put back what was taken."

Scott, an enthusiastic outdoorsman, went on to say "we are really stewards of the land." He and Kate have planted trees on the farm with their daughters, and the Willmar native brings his dog Maize to hunt. "Our rootsŠhave always been in this area," and there is a "sense of family" here, explained Scott, a proud member of the Schaefers' family and a proud owner of the land that long sustained it.

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