Macomb TownshipAugust 22, 2012
Farm survives a century of change
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Kenneth Schramm finds it peaceful on the north end of his property, where a winding extension of the Clinton River splits acres of grassland and rows of soybean and hay crops.
He and his son Tom ride their all-terrain vehicles out to the cattle that find shade beneath trees.The Schramms empty their hatches of freshly picked corn and leave it behind for the cattle as feed.
On the opposite end of the property along 24 Mile Road, where three generations of Schramms have overseen the land, it is a contradictory scene.
“We’re no longer country here,” May Schramm, Kenneth’s wife, said. “It’s a highway now.”
The two-lane road, once designated for buggy travel, is now paved and busy with drivers meandering north to the township’s recreation center, town hall or the Suburban Ice skating rink, all of which are on 25 Mile Road.
“It’s hard to comprehend,” said Kenneth, who wears a green baseball cap that keeps a constant shade over his eyes.
Yet somehow in this community, where among the many subdivisions farms are now the exception, the Schramm family has held onto its 100 acres for more than 100 years.
Earlier this year, the Michigan Historical Society named the property a Michigan Centennial Farm, a designation given only to farms owned by the same family for a century.
The Schramms have held on despite the offers from developers to buy their land before the housing bubble burst in 2008. They said now the offers hardly ever come. But when the housing market once again picks back up, Kenneth, 72, and May, 64, know their farm will be on borrowed time.
Kenneth’s grandfather Robert Schramm first bought the property in 1908. He was the son of German immigrant Charles Schramm and one of 17 children.
All the children married, bought land and had children who also bought land, developing a network of Schramm farms within Macomb Township and northern Macomb County. “A lot of people born in this house moved onto farms nearby,” May said. The family was so expansive that May has a hard time keeping track of who was born when.
In 1963, Robert died and Martin Schramm — Kenneth’s father — bought the 24 Mile Road property. When Kenneth and May married 44 years ago, Martin allowed them to move into the house and work the grounds. Subsequently, Kenneth and May purchased the land in 1990.
“A lot of people think it was just handed down and inherited, but it was a large family,” May said. “And even though the sons stayed on the farm, it would be like our son saying that we are going to give him this farm, but we have four other children.”
Tom, 43, owns his own 300 acres in Armada Township, where he lives.
Today, there are only three other farms yielding crops that are part of the Schramm family tree. One is an 80-acre property next door to the Robert Schramm farm that was originally owned by Robert’s father. Kenneth farms that land along with a former Schramm plot along 24 Mile Road that is owned by a developer who leases it to Kenneth for farming. The third plot of land is in Ray Township and is still owned by Schramm relatives, May said.
Altogether Kenneth oversees 1,500 acres, 1,400 acres are owned by developers waiting for investments to complete housing projects.
Although there are only two of Robert’s children still living — Evelyn Batsko, 85, Ervin Schramm, 84 — and though much of the family is dispersed throughout the country, more than 300 relatives returned to the farm Aug. 4 to celebrate the centennial designation.
May said family from as far as Las Vegas came. Kenneth roasted a 300-pound pig, and there was so much food brought to the family event that there wasn’t enough room to set it out, Kenneth said.
“It was an interesting day, but we were so busy that it went by so quickly,” Kenneth said.
May said for many of the young children at the celebration it was the first time they had been on a farm. She said the simplest aspects of farm life amazed the kids.
“It was like they were at a beach,” May said.
As the economy recovers, so do the chances that the Schramm farm will be sold and developed into a subdivision.
“Well, it’s been at a standstill, but it’s starting to pick up,” Kenneth said of investors interested in buying their land. “If you don’t have 1,000 acres, you won’t make enough for a living.”
May said more and more people shopping for homes are stopping by the farm asking May or Kenneth if they know of any houses for sale in Macomb Township. They tell the couple that all the subdivisions they’ve seen are sold out. This is a telltale sign to Kenneth and May that people have the money to buy houses once again.
“You know, in all the years that we farmed, we never ever thought we would come to the point of thinking there might not be any land,” May said. “But if things take off again, that could possibly happen.”
Regardless of what happens to the acres of hay, soybean and grazing grounds for beef cattle, the couple plans to stay in the home which Kenneth’s grandfather moved into more than 100 years ago.
“We’re too old to get reacquainted,” May said. “Our life is here.”
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