Old McDonald Meets Farmer Maurer
Patricia Fox, Chair, Boone County Historic Preservation Review Board
Originally published: August, 2007 in the Boone County Recorder
“Old McDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-o.” Most baby-boomers sang this song and learned what cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, and horses looked like. Children today still sing the song, but the farmland where these animals live has vanished. Concentrated animal feeding operations now dominate the farm scene, leaving Old McDonald no choice but to sell his land to developers. Though this grim view of contemporary farming seems to be the norm, in Boone County, Bob Maurer has remained in the farming business, providing an example of how farms can adapt to the changes pushed on them by society.
In 1950, Bob Maurer's father wanted to spend more time with his family and moved them to a farm in Burlington, Kentucky, after working for the Kentucky State Department for several years . The farm had been in the White family for five generations since the 1830s. Bob's father concentrated on raising cattle, hogs, chickens, and horses. At that time most farms were dairy farms and provided a regular pay check from which household expenses were paid. “Yearly cash crops like beef cattle and tobacco provided the family with luxury items- appliances, televisions, a new car or tractor. Farming demanded work, but the philosophy of neighbors helping neighbors created a value driven lifestyle. You helped your neighbors as well as your family. That's the way we were raised,” says Margaret Maurer, Bob's wife. As time passed, however, farming became more profit-driven. Maurer realized this early on and worked at Sears. “But,” he explains, “I still farmed at nights, weekends, and vacations and helped my parents.”
Sadly, Bob Maurer sees that farms today may become “museum pieces like Shakertown,” for often in farming communities “two and a half generations are removed from farming.” The fate of farming, however, is not always so grim. Four years ago the Maurer's daughter, Betsy Weissmann and her husband Jay, moved into the area. According to Bob, “it had been a dream of Betsy's to come back to farm, so she talked me into coming out of retirement to raise sheep strictly as a meat product.”
Recently a state-wide sheep and goat conference took place in Elizabethtown. “The Department of Agriculture invited growers of sheep and goats,” recalls Maurer. “When asked, what can UK do to help, 90% wanted a course on sheep and goat management.” As a result in one to two years, there will be a class in different counties, and Bob Maurer may be one of the instructors.
Modifying farmland to handle a new market can be done. Imagination requires risk-taking, but early results indicate that in doing so, the look, the feel, and even the work of a farm can be maintained. Old McDonald might not recognize farming today, but farmers like Bob Maurer have chosen to adapt to the times and make farming work.