Route 383, known as Scottsville Road, can be considered as an artery from Rochester to its South-West communities. Like most highways of its kind, traffic is predictably dense; a characteristic that tends to succor ‘development’. On Scottsville Road, this trend is apparent…to a point. As you cross over Ballantyne Road (travelling south), you will notice that the compact housing developments, the miniature plazas, and the pizza parlors begin to slowly fade – a subtle transition from acute human presence to benign openness. And then farm land appears. Not so long after the buildings subside, you might notice an unassuming farmhouse and a large red barn tucked into the corner of Scottsville Road and Morgan Road. From outward appearance, the farm may not seem like an especially unique settlement; however, one must consider the location. Situated on a high density corridor, it is remarkable that farmland is still present, that development hasn’t reached any further, that this open place is still open.
And what is even more remarkable, in comparison, is the fact that the 150 acre farm is solely operated by George Hauslauer. However, the size and diversity of his farmland may suggest otherwise. “[I raise] mostly cash crops: wheat, corn, oats, hay…soybeans the last few years, dried beans…I keep a few chickens and a few sheep, used to keep dairy heifer replacements.”
To do this alone requires (from my perspective) admirable volition and I wondered what attracts him to the laborious farming lifestyle. According to George, “You are out in the sunshine more…when the sun shines….you don’t have to go back and forth to work, [avoiding] the rat race. It’s not really a job, it is more a way of life, really, in a lot of aspects.” In regards to the disenchanting realities of farming, “the biggest thing is the weather, dependent on the weather all the time. And there’s crop prices; long hours, especially in the summer; machinery breakdowns or the loss of an animal…something like that can be kinda heartbreaking….But after awhile you get over it, you remember [the bad times], you get over it after awhile.”
When you are working alone, the negative aspects of farming can be exacerbated by the lack of extra hands. For instance, in late June, I decided to make a brief sojourn to George’s hay fields on Chili Avenue in hopes of observing the baling process (kick balers are amusing to watch).When I arrived, I observed tidily combed windrows and a running tractor…but no George. I approached the idling machinery out of curiosity, and from my new view, I noticed a pair of legs sticking out from beneath the baler. A few steps closer, and audible grumbling interrupted by periodic banging soon cued me in to the situation. Not only is George the sole farmer, he is the sole mechanic.
During the summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to work for George as a temporary farm hand. Of all the possible tasks that George may be steeped in, most can be managed by one person, and a clamoring hunk of moving steel. Yet, George’s barn is a relic from the past: tall and narrow with an elevated hay mow, steep gables, and a timber frame structure. Modern technology allows today’s farmers to drive a load of hay into a metal pole barn and deposit it within minutes, without ever having to abandon the steering wheel. For George, haying means an expected dose of grunt work.
The setup was simple. I would stand on the hay wagon and load bales onto the elevator, while George would stand twenty feet above, stacking each bale that made it to the top. However, although the task may appear to be simple, there are persistent trials for the laborer. For instance, a kick baler does not neatly stack each bale onto the wagon. It’s like throwing a bag of wooden blocks into a container. They obviously do not fall in place themselves, and the mess is a bit more difficult to clean up. A kick baler casually boots each bale into the wagon, which creates perilous arrangements as I pulled bales for the elevator. Bales would be hopelessly wedged together, then come crashing down, and become stuck again (do not interpret this as a complaint, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge). In addition, as each wagon was liberated from its load, the elevator would have to be raised to accommodate the height of the growing hay palisade. In most cases, a bale would only have to ascend an angle of forty five degrees, but as the upper mow neared its capacity, I felt as if they were scaling a wall. It was imperative that every bale was balanced carefully on the elevator, for any mistake could turn an unassuming bale into a square cannon ball. I had the privilege to make a few mistakes.
Does farming entail physical risk? Yes, but you must expect it if you wish to live with the land. Interaction with open Place includes primal elements, and these characteristics demand some physical sacrifice. Should this entail fear? No, not if we strive to appreciate our open Places. Hay bales, farm animals, and whatever wildlife we have left; they emphasize that we are merely mortal, and indirectly substantiate that open Place is mortal too. It can be easily killed by ignorance.
Consider this: how many people are aware that George is the lone operator; even more, how many people notice his farm on the corner of Scottsville and Morgan when they drive to and from work? “They are so far removed from [agriculture] by so many generations that a lot of them…can’t tell one crop growing from another,” George lamented. “They don’t have an idea what’s going on. They’re just ignorant, it’s not their fault really. They’re not around it, nobody teaches it, they don’t teach it in school….they’re not up with it. That’s the way it is.”
That’s the way it is for most of us – an opaque barrier between those with the land, and those in the generations removed. The corn fields may mean little to us as we flash by, but on the other side of our car doors, this Place is something more.
“It’s kind of part of the family in a way…it’s been there since the world was made. You hate to see it when it gets destroyed or built on, but that’s the way it goes, the economics. A lot of it is craziness…I don’t think people are thinking ahead very far, it’s whatever feels good right now or whatever makes the most money. That’s the way everything is…aint just the land, everything is that way.”
I am not trying to accuse others of being short sighted and parochial; rather, I hope this may be a fine opportunity to pause, and remediate if necessary. For George, the farm has been in his family since 1926. As a result, his perspective of the future may be the most accountable presage we have.
“I can think of a lot of farmers right now that are in their last generation, and I am probably one of them….A lot of them, in another thirty years, it’s gonna be the end of them. There is gonna be less than there is now. That’s the way it has always been, especially in later times…. That’s the way it is.”
And that is the way it is…presently. But what can we establish for our future? If all the current cogs and wheels remained well oiled; that is, if farm land continues to subside to asphalt; we could expect the farmland in Chili to be steamrolled, subdivided, and roofed within the next decade. However, it is our choice to maintain the present patterns, or to veto them in deference for many more generations of farming in Chili. You can’t expect the farmers to stay if they are the victims of community-wide apathy, overbearing regulation, and burgeoning development pressure. It’s our responsibility to give the farmer’s reason to stay, to support their efforts on our soils. After all, it is they, not Wegmans, that feed us.
A hundred years may be difficult to conceive for an average suburbanite, but for the proprietor of a eighty-four year old farm, a century is not out of grasp. George’s vision, like many others, is grim. “There will probably be buildings all over the place,” said George gloomily. “It is hard to say. I hope it stays the way it is….I have no way of controlling it.”
The future is dire if we believe that farmland can be outsourced out of Chili. We will lose more than we could imagine.
“[You’re] better off not thinking about it, it makes your head hurt.”