Grandsons follow in German grandfather’s farming footsteps
A Sturgeon County 100-Year Farm Family
By Lorena Franchuk for Sturgeon County
Shorthorn cattle have been grazing continuously on the Schafers land in Sturgeon County for more than 100 years. It’s a story that began with Joseph Schafers’ emigration from Germany in 1911, and continues today as his grandsons George and Jim, along with great-grandson Spencer follow in his farming footsteps on the original homestead.
The Schafers family is one of five being recognized in 2020 for the 100-Year Farm Family Award—a distinguished honour granted only to families that continuously own the same farm land in Sturgeon County for a century.
“It’s a family effort,”said George Schafers of the milestone accomplished by four generations of Schafers tending the farm located midway between Morinville and St. Albert.
George knew he wanted to be a farmer as a youngster and officially started following graduation. His parents Alois and Elizabeth (Bokenfohr) Schafers set his destiny in motion shortly after birth. With a first name that means “earth worker or farmer” through Greek origin and a German last name described as “shepherd,” it’s pretty hard to ignore the cues when you’re given that moniker by your parents.
“I’m quite proud of it,” said George of the Sturgeon County recognition. He knows his grandfather Joseph would be equally pleased to see the family farm living on 100 years later, sustained by about 250 shorthorn cattle—the same breed he raised in the early days—and some grain farming. He is not surprised the family has retained the original property featuring rocky hilltops and some hard land or gumbo (containing a high level of clay) amid flatter lands suitable for grain farming.
“(Grandpa) was a very proud man and did well for himself,” said George. “I believe dad and him had the respect of the community.”
It’s unknown exactly what drew Joseph to Sturgeon County in the first place, but George speculates the area’s German population likely played a role in his decision to establish roots. Joseph moved around the neighbourhood for several years before he finally settled on the half section of land. The original house and barn—built in the 1920s during Joseph’s ownership—remain in use today. Jim and George’s son Spencer now live in the original farmhouse, while his other children Katherine and Joseph continue to live and work nearby.
Many memories have been made on the property over the past century. Joseph and wife Louise (Kieser) began their own farm story shortly after purchasing the land with the birth of George’s father, Alois, in June 1920, and his aunt, Katherine, just over a year later. Alois and his wife, Elizabeth (Bokenfohr,) had eight children including Bill, Louise, George, Mary, Fred, Jim, Tom, and Lawrence.
Today, the Schafers’ farm is primarily devoted to raising shorthorn cattle. Calving occurs in late March and September—a strategy used to spread the farm income throughout the year.
The Sturgeon County farm is ideally situated for George and his wife Nancy. “I can see the downtown [Edmonton] skyline from my kitchen window,” he said, noting a short span living in the capital city in the 1990s was more than enough urban life for him. “[We] get the benefit of the city without actually being in the city,” George said, adding he opts for Morinville to conduct business whenever possible.
He also appreciates the county’s community spirit. “I’ve grown up in the community so I know the community, and I get along with most people in the community, or I like to think I do. It’s much easier to deal with people if you know them … I have very good neighbours … and we think nothing of trading favours back and forth.”
Is your family is nearing the 100-year farming milestone? Learn more about the 100-Year Farm Family Award online at www.sturgeoncounty.ca/AgricultureAwards .