WAYLAND — Farming in this area has been the backbone for over a century.
Wayland Historical Society presented a program called “The History of Agriculture in Steuben County” by Paul Wolcott of Lent Hill Dairy on Sept. 17.
In 1806 Wayland was settled and by 1850 there was a lot of attention focused on farming. In 1915 a Grange was established that would hold different farming organizations. By 1940 the potato industry became the heartbeat of the community.
Wolcott’s family joined the potato legacy, but would find their real passion in dairy farming.
“The history of farming is a very important part of who we are, and what we do,” he said. “I am a fourth generation farmer.”
Wolcott’s family has done it for a very long time. His father’s mother’s side is the Edmond’s and they owned the land where Lent Hill Dairy sits. The farm has 4,000 cows that all have names, and are treated with the best care. They are the largest dairy farm in the county. It became established as Lent Hill Dairy in the 1960s. On the Wolcott side they had a potato farm on Pine Hill Road.
In 1975 a partnership was formed with Wolcott and his parents to run the dairy farm.
There were other dominant farmers in the area such as Meyers, Dyckman, and Wallace that started in the 1940s.
The history of potatoes is possibly the most important part of the Wayland area. They started in 1840 with some potato farms. However, it didn’t become a booming business until the railroad was put in around 1852.
“The trains had a dramatic impact on what we do here,” Wolcott said. “They were very important in shipping products.”
The years 1887 to 1890 were the best years for potatoes and many varieties had been formed.
Harvesting the potatoes was not an easy job, and many had to rely on children helping after school let out. Most of it had been done by hand, but in 1880 they started using the horsedrawn plows.
Wolcott mentioned how potatoes were sold at such a cheap price in the 1880s that it hurt the industry, so it died out until the early 1900s.
From 1900 until 1920 there were thousands of wooden carts filled with potatoes that were being shipped by train every year.
The Great Depression hit farmers the hardest and many couldn’t pay to keep their farms going.
“There were a lot of farmers who couldn’t pay to keep their farms, so many of them ended up abandoned,” Wolcott said. “It was really rough on everyone in this area.”
This is why there was a surge of farmers coming to the area in the 1940s, since the land had been very cheap.
Wolcott Farms had the first ever Empire Farm Days on their Pine Hill Road property, and this became the largest farm show in the North East.
Potatoes were not the only thing that made this area important to the farming industry. Cohocton had their famous Larrowe Mills buckwheat. Wolcott also mentioned beans, peas, grains, oats, hay, and corn.
Most of the modern equipment these days can tell the weather, map the fields, tell the good and bad spots to harvest, and measure the moisture in the soil.
Wolcott said it is unbelieveable how far we have come in the art of farming, and how the new technology makes it easier on the farmers.
Tillage was a fascinating topic as well, and shows us that we went from horse pulled plows to GPS powered machines.
Terry Neu still likes to work with horse drawn plows, and Wolcott said he likes seeing him out there in the field.
Lent Hill Dairy came from the love of cows, and the family changing from potatoes to milk.
The Edmond Farm started milking cows in 1959 when they just had 23 heifers.
Nowadays they have 4,000 cows and 350 of them can be milked in an hour. The technology talks about each cow, how much milk they produce, and if they are getting sick.
“We have a lot of cows, but we take very good care of them,” Wolcott said. “We make sure they have a clean place to eat and lay down.”
Wolcott said that all of our food comes from the farms and the ocean.
“We run into a lot of people who say they don’t want to farm,” he said. “We supply the whole world with safe food from our farms.”
The Wienhart Opera House will be the next program on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Wayland Historical Society.