A green village sign marks a place called Schumm.
It’s posted by the old railroad bed, north of the cemetery. The general store and sawmill are long gone. But the family that put its mark on this part of Ohio still hopes for a future.
Now, on a summer day, the Schumm boys herd their 17 pigs down a road that also shares their name. It’s good fun to see how many they can thread between that sign’s steel posts. At the county fair, a ribbon for a well-handled hog is a prized honor for these brothers.
“There’s something about working with hogs that I just enjoy,” said a smiling Mike Schumm, whose three sons, Adam, Ronnie and Brett, are the seventh generation on this Van Wert County farm. “I can’t put it into words.”
A surprising challenge
Along the gravel lane that leads back to the hog houses, the line between past and present is blurred. There are clucking hens in a gable-roofed chicken shed and a milking barn that is on the list for renovations. A wood-slatted corn crib is overshadowed by a towering silver grain bin.
“The romantic view of the old time farm is the farmer that’s got a little bit of everything. Well, that’s us right now,” Mike said.
Three hours in the morning and three hours at night are spent milking cows. On Tuesdays, eggs are delivered to a restaurant that boasts homemade noodles and pies. Beef cattle graze across from the nearby church. There’s 1,400 acres of grain to harvest and hay to cut, 4-H lambs to feed and, of course, the pigs.
So it’s a bit of a surprise when Mike describes his biggest challenge: “Finding enough to do.”
Things have changed
His explanation comes outside of a barn where a mother pig rests on her side, eyes closed, soaking up the midmorning sun. She occasionally flaps her ear at a fly.
Schumm hunches through a hog-sized hole in the wall and his gentle call of “C’mon girls” is met with beastly grunts. Two hefty sows — one pink, one brown — wander out from the dark.
“When I graduated from high school, dad said, ‘We can buy ground or we can expand a little bit in the livestock,’ ” Mike recalled. “We got a little bigger in the hogs and that allowed us stay on the farm.”
With three kids of his own and record high land prices, he again finds himself wondering how to grow.
“We need to do something to expand the operation to give the next generation a chance,” said Mike, whose wife, Robin, two brothers and father also work on the farm. “We’ve been thinking sustainability for a long time now.”
It’s a challenge when more farm work can be done by machine. Computers can control the family’s newest hog barn. Even the highly-developed corn plants produce a bacteria that allows them to battle bugs on their own.
“We work as many hours as we did, but it’s quite a bit easier now,” said Mike’s father, Fred, 80, reflecting on how the farm has evolved. “I can remember when we used to shuck corn by hand.”
That’s not to say people aren’t central to the daily operation. Mike rarely gets away, and family vacations are out of the question. As he puts it, there’s no such thing as a part-time livestock farmer.
But it’s still a far cry from the days when his great-great-great-grandfather felled 800 acres of virgin Ohio timber with hand tools.
The passion remains
“The Schumms did not cross the Atlantic in a steamer but in a sail ship. The voyage was a long one…”
That passage penned long ago by a family historian sets the tone for the more than 175 years the Schumms have cultivated a way of life in the Ohio soil.
And while they don’t know for sure if their children will want to continue on the farm, Mike and Robin are working hard to give them the chance.
A few years ago, they built a large, modern hog barn behind their house where Robin cares for a group of pigs that are owned and marketed by an outside company. It’s an arrangement that can mean less independence, but also less risk and a steadier paycheck.
At the same time, Mike is looking at expanding another side of their hog business, raising pigs with more fat than modern breeds to supply a local butcher shop. The family also is earning a reputation in the community for its hog roasts.
“We tell the kids you do what you have to do to keep the family going. That’s important to us,” Mike said. Then he shot a grin toward his sons and raised his voice slightly. “We hope we drove that home to them, right? You’ve heard it enough haven’t you?”
Mike’s oldest son, Adam, is studying mechanics. And through 4-H, Ronnie has taken an interest in electrical work. Both are valued skills on the farm and off. And as for the youngest, Brett, he’s just focused on school sports right now.
But among any uncertainty, one thing is clear: The Schumms have already passed along a passion for the land and animals that have sustained them for seven generations.
That was evident when, not long ago, Adam showed Ronnie an advertisement in a farm magazine for an essay contest. The prize: a female Berkshire pig, a breed sought for its flavor and one that Ronnie had been asking to bring to the farm.
“He wasn’t excited or anything,” Adam smirked.
Ronnie wrote the winning essay that night.
An excerpt from a Schumm family history written in 1928:
“It is in this part of the state that they hewed their homes out of the wilderness of the forests surrounding them; it is here that they planted and reaped, built and toiled; it is here that they reared their sons and daughters; it is here that they served and still serve their God according to their Lutheran faith; and it is here that the long rows of those who, after the toil of their days have departed this life, lie in serried ranks in the quiet cemetery which adjoins the church in the village of Schumm.”
Despite the daily, year-round requirements of this farm, Mike has volunteered as a member of Ohio Farm Bureau’s board of trustees since 2004. He is one of 26 farmers who oversee the organization. He credits his wife, Robin, for keeping things running on the days he was gone. The couple says they share a dedication to agricultural education and promotion.