COLUMBIA CITY — Visit the Schuman family farm in Columbia City and time slows down to the pace of yesterday.
The Schuman family farm was established in 1854 and was recently recognized with the Hoosier Homestead Award for the farm’s longevity.
The legacy of the Schuman farm may be documented for others to see in photographs, but to the family, the legacy is a life they lived and is a part of them.
“All the Schumans settled here,” said Richard, known to his family as Dick. “It used to be that you could walk to Larwill, seven or eight miles, and never step foot off of Schuman land.”
The farm is located on Schuman Road and now encompasses some 300 acres.
Paul said the family used to have more, but some parcels have been sold. The acres are still full of crops, but the farmer in the field is not necessarily a Schuman.
“We rent out the farm land to other farmers,” Dick said. “We’ve gotten too old and now we don’t have anything to do.”
“Our ancestors knew what they were doing and made it work. They made the farm what it is,” said Dick.
The youngest sibling, Nancy, said she remembers the farm having a variety of produce and products. A smile spreads across her lips as she remembers her mother out in full length skirts feeding turkeys and chickens. A black and white photograph of the late Dorothy shows her engulfed in chickens with feed pail in hand.
Paul said, “When we were kids we had three hired men who worked on the farm.”
Dick said the going rate was $35 a month. “They got 100 chickens, half of a beef cow and were put up in the house for farm hands.”
Throughout the years, the farm had all sorts of help. From Mexican farm hands to German prisoners of war, the farm was a business, employing on average a half dozen people.
The farm survived The Great Depression, two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Cold War, the Gulf War, economic crisis and other world events that trickled down to rural America and eventually were felt on the farm.
Dick said he remembers when rationing was enforced. “When gas was rationed, we had stickers on the cars. Certain letters got more gas than others. We had a ‘B’ and could get more gas because of the farm. We rationed everything. We had to. We got by with very little and we didn’t know it. To us it was a good life.”
The years that made it in today’s history books were filled with sacrifices. However, listen to the Schumans and it would seem more like an adventure than a crisis.
Dick said with a smile, “I remember when the government would pay 10 cents for (one bag of) milkweed pods. They used them for life preservers and parachutes. So we went over to the field and picked them to make some extra money. Everything became about the war and the war was a priority then.”
Paul rubbed his face and shook his head remembering how it was and how it’s changed. He said, “Now we forget about it. We aren’t the same now. Everything is bigger. You used to be able to raise a family on 80 acres and send the kids to college. Now you have to do more, farm more ground with less time.”
Dick chimed in, “We had to plow the ground up three times before we planted. Now it seems you just sow the seeds right on the ground.”
As times changed, the business of farming evolved. Farms like the Schuman’s are slowly vanishing into a memory. The family said they believe small family farms will eventually sell to larger farms.
“I don’t think our ancestors would recognize the place now,” said Dick.
Cooking with love
For Nancy and Mary, life was spent in the kitchen, not the fields.
“We had hired hands to feed and lunch was a big meal,” said Nancy. “Mom always prepared a huge meal and we had pies. It was a lot of work, but it was normal. It was her work. We also spent a lot of time gardening. We had a big garden and we lived off the produce.”
Mary said as a girl, she didn’t appreciate the significance of the family farm. “I led a pretty care-free life by today’s standards. Being a girl, I wasn’t allowed to do field work or drive the tractor — that was men’s work. My brothers got to help with farm work. I always wanted to drive the tractor. I guess that’s why I learned to cook and bake and help my mom around the house.”
Mary said there were always chores to be done. “We fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, brought the cows in from the pasture, helped in the garden and helped with the cooking. I do remember that we always had meat and potatoes, hearty farmer meals, and almost always ended the meal with pie. After getting home from school, a piece of pie was the usual snack. Maybe that’s why I don’t bake pies much but prefer to bake a cake or cookies. But, in contrast to today’s families, we always ate our meals together at the dining room table.”
Even today, the dining room in the Schuman home is furnished with a large table surrounded by chairs waiting to host the next family meal.
The two sisters took the lessons learned in the kitchen to the field…of competition, that is. Both are champion bakers having received high-standing honors at the Indiana State Fair. In 2001, both sisters were named Master Bakers at the inaugural Indiana State Fair Masters award ceremony. Nancy has 50 years under her apron as a state fair exhibitor, Mary has more than 30 years.
“I was very active in 4-H while growing up and my family was very supportive. That’s where I learned the fine skills of baking and loved the competition,” said Mary. “I guess it carried over to my adult competition in the Open Class Culinary Arts at the State Fair for more than 30 years.”
Nancy won the Archway Cookie Contest six times. In fact, Nancy’s Rocky Road Cookies, which were winners in 1975, were the single longest produced cookie by Archway and are now produced by Ellison Bakery, Fort Wayne.
Mary said that her Lemon Pecan Cookie recipe is most likely her favorite because of the story behind it.
“The Lemon Pecan Cookies were named Archway Cookie Champion in 1995, one of the last years that Archway held the contest,” said Mary. “It was a big deal to win that contest. Nancy had won the contest several times and I could never win it — until 1995 when I won it with the Lemon Pecan. The funny thing was that year I was in New Zealand when the cookies were due at the State Fair. So, I made my exhibit ahead and froze them, not expecting them to win. I was back in time for the final judging. You can imagine my shock and surprise when my exhibit was named champion.”
With a winning record, friends suggested the sisters put together a cookbook. In 2003, the first cookbook, “Sharing Our Best,” was printed and sold more than 1,900 copies. This year, the pair has put out a second cookbook, “Sharing More of Our Best.” The book is on sale at Memory Lane, Columbia City for $15.
This collection of recipes includes those exhibited at the Indiana State Fair. There is also a section of family and friends’ favorites. But according to Nancy, what makes this book unique is the vintage recipes from their years in 4-H.
“There are some good old recipes in here,” said Nancy. “These are from the 1950s and 60s. There were requests to have some of the old recipes so we decided to add this section to the book. We also included some of the winning recipes from the first book.”
Mary said, “In the first cookbook I included a recipe for Old English Wassail which I first learned about in 1962 and introduced it to the family at Christmas that year. It has become a tradition for the Schuman Christmas ever since, 50 years later.”
Crack the cover of “Sharing More of Our Best,” and the illustrations drawn by area artist, Joni Walker, give a warm welcome. The sisters have also included a dedication to the mother who taught them everything.
“Our love of baking started at an early age, thanks to her guidance. Our mother taught us to work hard and always do our best. She was proud of our accomplishments and she was our greatest cheerleader.”