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Tuesday October 25, 2016
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Life in New Swabia



Bill Lutz of Saline Township, the great-grandchild of an 1853 immigrant, still works an old-fashioned diversified farm. He raises a variety of different crops and different animals-like the traditional Swabian farmer who makes intensive use of limited acreage. One of his guiding principles is the very Swabian idea that if something still works well, it doesn't make sense to spend money on something new. He still uses his high, hip-roofed 1884 barn.

Of course, the real hallmark of the Swabians is stubbornness. That's why many are still part-time farmers, even though it pays little.

Still, even Swabians have left the land in recent generations. From 1950 to 2000, the number of farms in Washtenaw County declined by two thirds. Clayton Ernst of Freedom Township told me that a farmer raising just forty or fifty sows used to make a good living, but no longer. Farms have to get bigger and bigger to compete. Ernst noted, "My boy has to farm five farms to be a full-time farmer. The other four farmers got jobs in town."

As farming faded, Swabian families put a higher priority on education. Ray Schairer's brother became a botanist, his sister a nursing researcher. Walter Hinderer earned a business degree and became an accountant. Donald Katz became a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

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