As Family Farms Dwindle Nationwide, a 93-Year-Old Farmer Retires

As Family Farms Dwindle Nationwide, a 93-Year-Old Farmer Retires
Frank Falter spent a lifetime on his family's Wisconsin farm and has finally retired at age 93, in August 2022. (Chris Duzynski/The Epoch Times)

WEST BEND, Wis.—Frank Falter remembers working alongside his father and siblings— planting the fields, harvesting hay, mucking the stalls, and feeding and milking the cows—on what was once his father’s 120-acre farm near West Bend, Wisconsin.

Those childhood chores led to a lifetime of farming until Falter, 93, retired this year. Falter’s farm now joins a decades-long trend of family farms vanishing from the nation’s landscape.

Farms passed from father to son to grandson are disappearing. Large commercial operations with hundreds of cows and mass-produced crops are taking their place.

“I got a lot of satisfaction out of planting a crop, doing my best to control weeds and other pests, watching them grow, and then harvesting,” Falter said.

Frank Falter spent a lifetime on his family's Wisconsin farm and has finally retired at age 93, in August 2022. (Chris Duzynski/The Epoch Times)
Frank Falter spent a lifetime on his family's Wisconsin farm and has finally retired at age 93, in August 2022. (Chris Duzynski/The Epoch Times)

“When some men retire, they start a hobby, go fishing or golfing. I don’t fish or golf. My hobby is farming—unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with some health issues, so I decided it was time to retire.”

Falter has lived on the family’s farm since he was born in the farmhouse on Dec. 18, 1928, in the township of Trenton in Washington County.

He was the fourth of six surviving children of Leo and Adela Falter. As with his older siblings, his mother delivered him on her own. Only one of the Falter children was born in a hospital.

Ten years before Falterwas born, his father purchased the 120-acre farm in Wisconsin and provided for his growing family through long, grueling hours working the fields and caring for the animals.

“There were about 65 acres of tillable farmland; the remainder was pasture and woodland. Horses were used to till the soil and pull the planting and harvesting machinery,” Falter said.

“At that time, and for about the next 30 years, there were about 15 cows that were milked by hand. The farm chores were done with a fork or shovel, pail or bushel basket, or a wheelbarrow. There were also a few hogs and a flock of laying hens on the farm.”

Frank Falter with his wife Althea on their Wisconsin farm in August 2022. (Chris Duzynski/The Epoch Times)
Frank Falter with his wife Althea on their Wisconsin farm in August 2022. (Chris Duzynski/The Epoch Times)

In 1941, when Falter was 13, his father purchased a used tractor and plow to relieve the horses of the heavy fieldwork.

Around that time, they had electricity installed, which enabled them to retire the kerosene lamps and lanterns that they used to light the house and barn.

“Around 1948, we finally installed running water to the house, which amounted to one cold water faucet in the kitchen. Before that, we pumped water with a hand pump at the well and carried it into the house with a pail,” he said.

“The water to the barn for the livestock had been pumped using a small gasoline engine for many years. My father was one of the first farms to install drinking cups for the cows in the barn—a lot of other farmers chased their cattle into a creek or something.”

For most of his elementary school years, Falter attended Holy Trinity School, except for one year when he attended the one-room Pleasant Hill Country School.

In the early mornings and late afternoons, he and his siblings worked on the farm doing chores, but after finishing eighth grade, his father decided that Falter wouldn’t continue to high school because he needed him on the farm.

“I was the only one of the six that never went to high school,” Falter said. “I would’ve liked to go, but I accepted his decision. It wasn’t uncommon at the time for farm boys to stay home and help farm.

“My older siblings graduated high school and found other employment. My younger brother and sister went on to college.”

Thankfully, 4-H helped fill the gap of not going to high school. He enjoyed attending the weekly meetings with his friends and showing his animals at the county fair.

He remained home to help his father with the farm until 1951, when he married Mary Ann Bohn. The 22-year-old and his new wife rented the farm on shares from his parents for six years.

They lived in the farmhouse where he was born and raised their five children. Several years later, they purchased the farm from his parents.

The Falter farm in Wisconsin has been in the family for two centuries. (Courtesy of Frank Falter)
The Falter farm in Wisconsin has been in the family for two centuries. (Courtesy of Frank Falter)

“We later installed a bathroom and a hot water heater in the house,” he said. “Before that, we used an outdoor toilet. There was no furnace. We heated the house with a wood stove in one half and an oil burner in the other half.”

In the 1970s, Falter gradually increased the number of cows in his herd to about 110. He built a free-stall barn and milking parlor. He improved the farmland by tilling wetlands, removing brush, building stone fences, and putting in contour strips.

“Also, as land became available, we bought more land,” he said. “We also rented neighboring farmland to be able to raise enough feed to feed our increased herd size. Most of the work was done by family members.

“My wife and the kids all helped on the farm as they were growing up. I did hire a teenage nephew and some neighbor kids part-time as needed.”

Falter’s oldest son graduated high school and enlisted in the military. Because he lived on a farm, he wasn’t required to report to basic training until after the crops were harvested that fall.

“My two younger sons both farmed with me for a number of years after high school,” he said. “Eventually, my younger son took a job in a field he liked but continued to help on the farm.”

Unfortunately, in 1975, when she was just 47, he lost his beloved Mary Ann to cancer.

He was a widower for four years when he met Althea Vollmer Bremser at a support group for those who had lost a spouse. She was raising her six children on her own.

“It took about a year before I asked her out on a date,” Falter said with a laugh. “I was surprised when she said yes. It took great courage for me to ask her out after not dating for so long.

The Falter farm in Wisconsin has been in the family for two centuries. (Courtesy of Frank Falter)
The Falter farm in Wisconsin has been in the family for two centuries. (Courtesy of Frank Falter)

“I never thought I would get married again. I didn’t think there would be a woman in the world who would want to be with someone who milked cows twice a day for 365 days a year. I just didn’t think it would work.”

They were married on July 18, 1980. She moved into the farmhouse, and they began their life together, although it bothered him that Althea was living in the shadow of the life he built with his late wife.

“The cabinets were half filled with my late wife’s things, and I just didn’t think it was fair,” he said. “So, I built a home for her on my property, and we rented out the farmhouse that I lived in all my life.

“I drew up the plans with Althea’s approval. One of my nephews is a builder; he gave me a good deal and roughed out the house and put the roof on. We had some lumber on the farm from an ice storm we had that took down a bunch of high lines. I got a guy who sawed all the wood into the board and batten I used to side the house.”

With the couple doing much of the work themselves, which included digging the basement and laying the concrete block, the house was ready in about a year. They moved into the house in 1996 and are proud that they can fit 45 people in the living room and kitchen for parties and holidays.

“Of course, we have to step over the little ones,” Falter said with a laugh. “We have a lot of little ones. We have a blended family of 11 children, and we have 22 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

“I am lucky that only one of my family members, a granddaughter, lives out of state. The rest live not much more than an hour away.”

Throughout his adult life, Falter was a member and past president of the Washington County Farm Bureau. He was also active in the township and county governments. He was elected and served on the Washington County Board of Supervisors for 18 years, and in 1966, he was appointed to and served on the Town of Trenton Plan Commission.

Although he enjoyed everything about farming, Falter began to realize that milking over 100 dairy cows twice a day was becoming too demanding for him, especially since his children were not interested in continuing in his footsteps.

“The farm work with only family labor required more than 12 hours a day on weekdays and six hours on Sundays, and I was getting older,” he said.

“My wife and sons and I decided we wanted a less demanding lifestyle, so we began downsizing the dairy herd. In March of 2001, we sold the last cows. We were no longer a dairy farm, so I no longer needed to employ help. My son Fred farmed with me until we quit dairy farming.”

Interestingly, in 2001, when he stopped dairy farming, only 2.5 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms had more than 100 cows. In 2022, very few farms have fewer than 100 cows.

“The family farms are disappearing, and commercial farms have taken over,” Falter said. “So many people don’t want to spend the time it requires to care for the cows and milk them twice a day. The average person is not used to doing that much work.”

For the next 20 years, he continued farming the land on his own, growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay.

In 2021, he rented out his farmland and stopped renting the neighboring 120 acres that he had been using since 1966. He continued renting smaller parcels near his home but gave that up this year.

“It was becoming too much for me, and I would have trouble finding someone to combine my crops. The machinery has changed, and it would be too expensive for me to purchase new equipment at this stage of my life,” he said.

“I miss it, but I’m glad I stopped due to my health concerns. I’ve owned all my land longer than anyone before me. Also, all the land I farmed, both owned and rented, I’ve farmed more than anyone before me.”

Falter continues to stay active with a small garden bursting with cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other produce. Althea enjoys canning and recently canned a large batch of bread-and-butter pickles.

“Althea broke her hip last year and now she walks with a cane, but she helps me in the garden and helps me mow our big lawn and does her own housework,” he said. “She pays all our bills and does the bookkeeping.”

They are members of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, where he was baptized. Only one other person has been a member for longer.

The couple credits their strong Catholic faith for their great marriage.

“She must have had a good marriage the first time around to want to come into this setup,” Falter said. “And that’s God’s honest truth.”

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