Don Essich was a Carroll County Farmer in the Bachman Valley. Don Essich talks about how rural the town was and how much it has changed over time.
DON ESSICH: My name is Don Essich. I was born and I’ve lived all my life in Carroll County, was a Carroll County farmer.
INTERVIEWER: And where in Carroll County were you living?
DON ESSICH: I lived in the old Bachman Valley area.
INTERVIEWER: What was the closest town?
DON ESSICH: Westminster.
INTERVIEWER: And what was the neighborhood that you grew up in like?
DON ESSICH: Well, it was very rather rural. Although, I was only about three miles out of town by the road, but it was very rural and had very few close neighbors. Unlike today, when there’s a lot of houses and a lot of close neighbors.
DON ESSICH: I grew up on a 150 acre farm. And it was– I added a little land to it later on. We have about 180 acres. Fed cattle, feedlot, fed cattle, and grew the crops. And in 1983, I discontinued the cattle feeding operation and grew just corn and soybeans.
INTERVIEWER: And so was that your father’s farm?
DON ESSICH: Well, yes, and my grandfather’s, and then my father got it in around, back in the ’40s. And then, at the death of my father in 1963, my mother– my father had made arrangements for me to buy it from my mother, which I did. And I farmed until 1995 when I retired from farming.
INTERVIEWER: So you lived in the same house the whole time?
DON ESSICH: Pretty much.
INTERVIEWER: And how did it change from the time you were growing up till later in life? Did you have plumbing and everything?
DON ESSICH: Yeah, the house pretty much had everything. But it was very, you know, not very private because the bathroom, indoor bathroom, only had a curtain separating it in a hallway. And later after I got married, why, we had to petition that off a little bit. But a lot of, you know, things that have changed. And I fixed the house up and remodeled. And this is what the trend was. And then, we kept it until I quit farming.
INTERVIEWER: So when you were growing up on the farm, what was your typical day like, when you were a kid?
DON ESSICH: Well, it depended on what season of the year it was. In the spring, why, we were trying to get out and get the plowing and the working on the ground caught up so that we could start planting corn in the early part of May. And, of course, back, probably, in ’40s– late ’30s, ’40s, and into the ’50s– why, pretty much everything was plowed up until the late ’60s, probably.
And then we went to no till. But up until then, you had to kind of use a moldboard plow, and plow the land, and then work it down and make a seedbed, and then plant the corn. And later on, when no till became the way to do it, we switched over. And I ended up no tilling my land up until I quit farming.
INTERVIEWER: What did you– where did you go to school?
DON ESSICH: I went to school in Westminster and graduated Westminter High. And I graduated in 1949 in only 11 years. And in 1950, they added a 12th year on, so I could skip one year there.
INTERVIEWER: And where did you go to church?
DON ESSICH: I went to St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Westminster.
INTERVIEWER: Is it still there?
DON ESSICH: It’s still there.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still go there?
DON ESSICH: No.
INTERVIEWER: What about your groceries? Did you go off the farm for any groceries?
DON ESSICH: For any what?
DON ESSICH: Groceries, yeah, you know, we shopped. My folks were involved with the Farm Bureau and the Carroll County Farm Bureau. And they started the– I guess they called it a co-op grocery store back in probably the early ’40s. And so they pretty much shopped at– it later ended up in Westminster Shopping Center. And it was just a couple years ago when Food Lion come and bought out everything, and they closed a– I think it called it a Greenbelt Consumer Cooperative or something like that.
INTERVIEWER: How did Westminster change from when you were growing up?
DON ESSICH: Well, obviously, it grew– built a new high school. I felt they always had good education in Carroll County. And I had two children who attended and graduated in Westminster and went on to the University of Maryland– both did. And I felt that they got a good education in Carroll County public schools. They certainly changed a lot then because back then, you had the elementary school and the high school and, you know–
INTERVIEWER: -those were the only two schools.
DON ESSICH: You didn’t have the you know, what they call what do they call it? The elementary and middle school.
DON ESSICH: Yeah, we didn’t have that then.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So what did you do for fun?
DON ESSICH: Um, well, it was tough. But in school last year, I always had to work on the farm, but my dad did let me take off and go out for baseball in my last year in high school. And I really enjoyed that. I love sports. But, yeah, just played around with a– especially as you got a little older and you could drive a car, well you’d play with other young people my age. And we’d play football, baseball, soccer.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to the movies?
DON ESSICH: Went to the movies. And there was a few dances around then. But I ended up– probably when I was about 16– going to the roller skating rink up at Taney Town at the Rainbow Rolling Rink. And, as a matter of fact, I went there for a number of years, and I met my wife there. She used to come up. She lived in Reisterstown. And she’d come up with a group that had come up from Reistertown. We eventually met each other and went from there.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. Let’s see. Where’d you guys go for clothes?
DON ESSICH: Um, well, we did a lot of shopping at JC Penney’s in Westminster, and had another one there. Well, they had several. Mather’s was a store up on Main Street. And, um, they had a few other stores. But if you really wanted a variety, we went to Hanover and had, uh, you know, more stores, more variety up there.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think has changed the most about Carroll County?
DON ESSICH: Well, I had a cattle feedlot operation. And about the time– the handwriting was on the wall– that there was no longer a real opportunity in feeding cattle to do well with it. Because we had good corn prices here because Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia are all corn-deficient states. That means that they use more corn than they can grow. Therefore, we had good markets here because they had to bring the corn in from Midwest– Ohio, Illinois, Indiana.
And so it was a cost there to transport the corn in. And the local people who sold corn generally got that as a premium for their grain. And I was no longer getting– we weren’t, a lot of the slaughterhouses where we fatten cattle and sold them for, you know, for beef, slaughter– and they, that market all changed. A lot of the slaughterhouses closed down because of environmental concerns. And most of them didn’t think that it was that opportunity was there.
And there was probably 20 or more slaughterhouses around the Baltimore area– or in Baltimore City, even. And there’s only, I think, one in the city, and one right outside the city limits in Catonsville, and some small little butcher places around Carroll County and around Maryland. But, you know, or the markets pretty much left. And the opportunity to make money at feeding cattle was no longer here.
And a lot of things went into that. And it had to be the changing of the feedlots out West. And they had big feedlots where they, you know, fed 5,000, 10,000, 100,000 cattle. And they generally ended up building the slaughterhouse right close to the feedlots. And they fed, you know, in volume– I mean volume and handle cattle.
And we couldn’t compete. Not if you used the corn. If you priced it at what you could sell it as grain, you couldn’t afford to feed it to the cattle because of this good corn market around here. And what made that good was the brewers on the eastern shore of Maryland, and also some, you know, dairy man needed corn, and some hog production, some chicken, layers. You know, the brewers are on the eastern shore.
And we had some layers around, laying houses around too– as we still do. But that’s the big change is that not too many people have livestock any longer. A few dairy men around– or I say a few. There’s still some dairy farms, but there are less and less of them. And a few people feed a few cattle, but not Carroll County– used to have probably fed more cattle than the rest of the state did, as far as fattening beef cattle.
It was pretty popular then. And, well, we had some good markets. Some markets were in Union Stockyards in Baltimore. And later– that was owned by the railroad, and they closed it down. Or they moved the stockyards out there. They’re called Baltimore Union Stockyards. And they closed it down, and the brokers and the cattle buyers ended up out at West Friendship. And that remained until probably in the ’80s, and then that closed down.
And so everything has changed. And probably the only close market here is the one here in Westminster. That’s out here off of 31. And that’s an auction market. And they probably sell more, more beef cattle now than it did when I was feeding cattle because, you know, the buyers weren’t there to buy beef. They were in Baltimore or West Friendship.
And when I had cattle that didn’t suit the buyers here, the butcher’s here. Sometimes they have some big cattle, and our butcher’s around here didn’t– and I say around here in Baltimore and around. They didn’t want big cattle. They didn’t want cattle weighing over 1,200 pounds. So we would take them up to Lancaster, New Holland, or [INAUDIBLE].
There were auction markets there. Well, Lancaster– well, the Union Stockyards also, but they later became an auction market. And they had good markets up there– as they still do today because there’s a lot of Mennonite Amish farmers and slaughterhouses– small. They might only kill, maybe, half a dozen a week or so, maybe a dozen a week , but there’s a lot of them. And they continued at it.
Whereas, Carroll County moved away from cattle. And they still have some decent grain markets, but we all started using, you know, the buyers R.D. Bowman was one of the buyers. Southern States was a buyer. Malnuck’s Grain was a buyer. And probably Lippy Brothers now, I think, buys some grain, so they’re kind of branching out into that field now. So.
INTERVIEWER: How would you describe Carroll County to someone who’s never been here?
DON ESSICH: Well, I think it’s still, in a lot of ways, relatively rural. But for those of us who grew up there, I would say it’s no longer that. But people come here and I think we still got some open land. And this has to do a lot with the preservation programs that the state has, and Carroll County also has preservation. And it’s really preserved farmland.
And the state or the county will buy easements and give the owner, maybe, some much needed capital to pay debts and keep farming. But he gives up his opportunity to sell building lots. I mean, he trades that offer called easements. That they sell either to the county or to the state.
INTERVIEWER: So that’s very different in how it is used to be.
DON ESSICH: Oh, absolutely. That was started– I was active in the Farm Bureau back in ’60s, ’70s, and this land use became very much a issue and a topic. And I still remember the people who moved into Carroll County. One didn’t want it to change and didn’t want it to have any development to speak of. They moved in and they would like to keep it like it was.
But obviously, you know, there’s– it’s difficult to stop it altogether. And they can put it in– around the municipalities– allow the zoning around that to expand a little bit. But you can’t now build developments out over the county unless they have the zoning, and that didn’t change very much now.
INTERVIEWER: And water’s been an issue lately.
DON ESSICH: What?
DON ESSICH: Water.
INTERVIEWER: –with developing. So was there an issue with water when you were farming?
DON ESSICH: No, no, because there was less people– less wells needed, less water needed. The use– we never had too much irrigation around here. Now you get over in eastern shore of Maryland, and they have a lot of irrigation, and they have a lot of water demand over there. It’s probably more now than ever.
Also with, you know, a little more growth. Now we have a lot of growth around here, but water wasn’t an issue back then. But now I understand a lot of these developments, they have trouble with the wells– maybe have to redrill and hit new water sources. And so I don’t know how bad that’s going to be. It doesn’t seem to be as bad here as it does in other parts of the country– yet.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other things that come to mind about growing up in Carroll County or any changes you want to talk about?
DON ESSICH: Uh, not off the top my head. I can’t think what they are. But there are plenty of things that have changed. And the– a lot of the new residents come out of some of the metropolitan areas or your urban areas of, you know, the larger cities around Baltimore and around Timonium and Ellicott City and all.
INTERVIEWER: What about your neighbors up here now? Are they mostly from Carroll County, or do you have a mixture?
DON ESSICH: At the Village– Carroll Lutheran Village. Yes, I live at Carroll Lutheran Village, and I would say, maybe, a third of them, or less, are from Carroll County. And most of them are from other parts of Maryland, and some from out of state. And then we have some from Massachusetts, I believe, and some from New York State, and some from, maybe, West Virginia, some from Virginia, I guess and–
INTERVIEWER: mostly East Coast.
DON ESSICH: I can think– yeah, little bit all around. But there’s a lot of competition now for senior citizens. And so it’s a big business now. And I guess the competitiveness kind of, maybe, helps control the costs somewhat. But it’s, it’s changed– even since I moved here.
I’ve been here now two and a half going on three years, and I’ve seen, you know, of course, the economy has changed here in the last year, year and a half And I’ve noticed that everybody’s feeling the crunch. And probably some of the farmers– they’ve seen some very– prices that have moved up and down. And they kind of went with demand with other things.
And as the economy changed, so did the demand for, maybe, some of their grains and some of their products or produce that they produce. And, of course, your costs– they keep going up, and they don’t come down too much. And I’ve seen that change a lot– the demand for fertilizer, for chemicals, and, of course, for machinery and all that.
INTERVIEWER: Increase I guess.
DON ESSICH: Yeah. It’s fewer farms, but we’ve got some fairly good-sized farms. And we, I guess the– some of the farms are– they might even be part-time farmers. There’s a lot of people that just have a love of wanting to be on a farm and be a farmer. And some of these folks, when they can afford it– whether depending whether a professional person or somebody that’s done well working– they’ll end up maybe buying a small farm.
And they’ll, you know, farm on the evenings and weekends, and they just love it. And a lot of these people said they wished they grew up in a farm, and they could have farmed. But I suspect if they did, why they’d feel, maybe, like a lot of us is, man, it’s hard work, and I’m glad when it’s over.
INTERVIEWER: Right, right. Well thanks for sharing those stories about farming in Carroll County.
DON ESSICH: It seemed like that’s where we ended up on farming, and that wasn’t necessarily the direction you intended is it, or–
INTERVIEWER: Oh, no. That’s fine.
DON ESSICH: OK.
INTERVIEWER: That’s fine. That’s what you were involved with, right?
DON ESSICH: Hm-hm.
DON ESSICH: OK.
DON ESSICH: Thank you.