Munching on an apple he picked from a tree near a 1917 apple sprayer, Wayne Schilling walked through his farm reflecting on nearly 160 years of history.
A red 1920s machine shed is still standing, though Schilling was careful not to accidentally crush a piece of it.
“I better not lean too hard against it,” he said with a laugh.
Schilling inherited the property from great-great grandfather John Frederick who settled in Woodbury from Germany in 1856, starting out with 80 acres before expanding and passing the farm down from generation to generation.
The property, just southwest of Radio Drive and Bailey Road, produced everything from dairy to chickens to corn and soybeans. But what’s left of it will soon be gone, only seen in pictures and history books, to make way for more urban amenities.
“It’s difficult,” said Wayne Schilling, the fifth generation farmer to run the property. “But we’ve been presented an opportunity that few people have.
“We’re doing it when the time is right.”
Wayne and Betty Schilling are getting ready to auction off everything on the farm next week. They’re getting rid of tractors, silos, machine sheds, barn boards and even the home Wayne grew up in.
“Recently we found the blueprints for it,” he said. “My grandmother was a really strong person. She wanted the fireplace where it is and it wasn’t part of the plan.”
She was a forceful woman, he said – a trait accompanied by the farming gene. Even members of the Schilling family who didn’t have it in them got sucked into farming when they spent time around relatives who did.
Things were different in the 1950s, a much simpler time, filled with personal interaction between farmers and super market owners.
“We took the eggs right to the owner of the store,” Wayne Schilling said, pointing east on Bailey Road to where “Boyd’s” used to be. “Then we’d take the money and go buy groceries.”
Schilling took over the property at 25 years old after graduating college with a degree in agriculture and spending two years in Venezuela with the Peace Corps.
It was a dairy farm until he sold the cows 10 years ago. Since then, he’s been farming corn and soy beans.
In addition to his property, Schilling farmed land all over Woodbury, recalling them by their owners’ names: the Thompsons, the Scheels, the Bielenbergs.
“There is more than 2,000 acres now that have different uses that I used to farm,” he said.
Now there is about 130 acres left on the property that will be turned into an “urban village” with plans for senior, affordable and single family homes along with retail and open space parks.
Although they knew they’d be the last generation to farm the property, the change has been bittersweet for the couple who’s ready to retire.
Looking out their kitchen window, they pointed at a silo that was moved from another farm in Woodbury to be recycled and used on their farm. They joked about how machine sheds are falling apart and the barns that have seen better days.
“This was an era where people saved everything,” Betty Schilling said. “If the mice didn’t eat it, it’s still there.”
Their ancestors would cringe at the idea that someone would demolish a building just to build another, she said. They hung on to everything in case they needed it someday.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it over, or do without,” was their motto, she said.
The Schilling property is one of the pieces of farmland in the city that occupies a big chunk soon to be developed as part of the 30-year Comprehensive Plan.
Though he knew it had to end sometime, Wayne Schilling said “I didn’t know that it was going to end in 2014.”
“The changes, while they seem like they happened really fast and they did, they were gradual changes,” he said.
Wayne and Betty Schilling are not moving too far away – just across the border to Afton to start a new life free of cows, tractors and combines.
But they’re taking the vintage apple sprayer with them.