Christine Schoenemann (Maccabee)
Oh the place that I’m from is the place that I won,
It’s the joy of my heart, it is my own.
It took many a year but I’m finally here,
With a hey and a hoe, to the field I go!
—Song of the Homesteader
German Homesteaders in the Catoctins
Most of us who have transplanted ourselves into this wonderful upper Frederick County soil are so busy with our present-time lives that we do not even consider the roots of how Thurmont even got here in the first place! I know I was guilty of this, until I viewed the marvelous DVD Almost Blue Mountain City by Christopher Haugh last month. As I witnessed the area’s fascinating history unfold before me, I was awestruck by the vintage photographs and drawings, but especially by the interviews of our area old-timers and historians.
My ancestry is 100 percent Germanic, settling in Baltimore and Wisconsin, so as I watched this DVD it became crystal clear why I was drawn here to put down roots and do my homesteading work and my music. Names like Weller and Apples, Harbaugh, Kelbaugh, and many others—so familiar to me now—took on new meaning as I viewed the documentary.
I was also inspired to see how initially only hardworking, creative Germans came to settle in this area. In fact, they were purposely brought here, as Germans were known for their ethics of hard work, creativity, and downright determination (which I can relate to, because I am as persistent and unrelenting as they were when it comes to my homesteading efforts and my music).
Since those even earlier years when the Native Americans were kicked off their land and forced into all sorts of difficult situations (we all know that sad history) other folks have immigrated to this fair land. They were equally as full of hope for freedom and independence from their own oppressive governments. They were of all nationalities: Irish, Scottish, French, British, Spanish, Scandinavian, and others even further away, coming from exotic places like China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Africa…and so many other countries, too innumerable to list.
I cannot even imagine what it must be like to be so displaced, whether it be by choice or slavery, persecution or war. Fortunately, I was able to come here to my mountain valley home by choice. The first thing I did when looking at this property as a potential homestead was to put a shovel into the field to see what the soil was like. My fervor for living in the country and growing crops was more deeply entrenched in my genes than I knew even then, as it is in the genes of many others.
The soil had to be rich, but even if it wasn’t, I knew tricks to make it better. Some of those ideas came to me through books, but mostly through family heritage. My Germanic ancestors were all of hardy peasant stock, and all were avid gardeners and lovers of nature and music, so you might say I came by my passions naturally.
Since that fateful day just twenty-six years ago, I have allowed trees to grow back on my 11.6 acres. Locust and ash, mulberry and cherry, pine, and so many others, including the wonderful dogwoods and red buds. They all came back without my help since the rootstock was simply waiting for someone like me to come along. I then integrated a few favorites, though not native—remember, I am not native either— such as the wonderful mimosa tree. I now have several large trees, which are now just starting to bloom, the bees and butterflies swarming to their sweet smelling flowers.
I never buy nectar from the store for the hummingbirds, as there are so many flowers here, especially the mimosa, which they love.
My intention when first moving here was to create integrative gardens, allowing mostly native trees and wild plants to grow, in between which I would have my beds of vegetables. The plan seems to be working out quite well, for all of us—the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, and all of the native plants simply growing and waiting to be known and appreciated…like most of us!
I believe there is a little bit of the homesteader urge in every gardener, no matter how large or small the property. The satisfaction of growing one’s own blueberries, tomatoes, green beans, and the like, and even canning produce goes deep into that ancient urge to survive and to thrive independent of—and frequently in conjunction with—others. (Remember the earlier days of bartering?)
Happily, in our very own town of Thurmont, there is a new program to make us a Sustainable Maryland Community. A Green Team will be encouraging the creation of a community garden, as well as encouraging people to buy local produce. This is one initiative among other projects that will benefit the environment. (Google Green Team Thurmont and join us!) This movement here and elsewhere around the country is increasingly becoming an ethical imperative. My personal belief is that the less traveling, the better, and that includes my food.
Now that I have established my own German roots here, I know for certain that these mountains, valleys, and plains are still filled with people with vision, much as they were centuries ago. I have been privileged to get to know many dedicated, creative, and caring people, heirs to the hard work of the talented German immigrants who first settled in this region. This gives me great hope. Years ago, in my twenties, and poor as a church mouse, I had a dream of homesteading, and now I am here. So, “with a hey and a hoe, to the field I go!”