100-year pioneers

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Levy County family farm recognized for longevity

By Mark Scohier

Like any good country boy growing up in these parts, Newnan Sanchez knows firsthand about the circle of life, about nature’s delicate balance and how people once lived more harmoniously with the land.
“I hate to see a lot of Old Florida disappearing,” the 69-year-old Chiefland native said, swaying gently in a rocking chair on the porch of an old cabin where his aunt and uncle once lived.
“When I grew up, it was one of the smaller states in the Southeast.”
Sanchez, who grew up on a 400-acre farm just east of Chiefland, said he’s dismayed to see so many of the state’s small family farms bought out by large corporations or turned in to housing developments and strip malls.
The Sanchez Farm grows pine trees these days, about 80 acres. And some of the land has been split between family members, he said, pointing to the other side of County Road 320. His grandparents, George and Rossie, established the farm in 1898. The foundation of the house where Sanchez grew up is still there, as well as most of an old store where lumber was sold after it had been milled. Sanchez said his grandfather bought the land from a lumber company. As he cut the pines left on the land, he replaced them with row crops and livestock.
“Primarily, they were doing what most of the people did at that time of the century: They were raising hogs.”
Recently, because the Sanchez farm has stayed in the family and continued to operate in some capacity for more than 100 years, it received designation as a Century Pioneer Family Farm by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The farm is one of eight in the county to earn the title since the state came up with the designation in 1985.
“It’s an attempt to make sure family farms stay viable,” he said.
Sanchez, whose lineage dates back to Spanish settlers from the 1700s, said small, self-sustaining farms—a return to the ways of old—are going to be critical in the future.
“It’s my belief that feeding the world’s population is going to become increasingly difficult,” Sanchez said. “It’s going to be important that we produce food, in particular, vegetable material.”
Agriculture is often too involved with cattle and dairy production, he said. Vegetables take less energy to grow. “Florida has a vigorous climate for vegetable crops. I think we’re going to go back to it, and I’d like to see it.”
He said he’s also excited about the relatively recent trend toward growing organically—using less chemicals and less water. And small farms, growing food for local populations, have a smaller carbon footprint, he added.
“It’s difficult for them (small organic farms) to compete right now,” he said. “But sometimes, if you say, ‘It’s more expensive,’ you haven’t looked at the environmental costs.”
But Sanchez knows the world is a different place. And he’s realistic, admitting that today’s farmers can only borrow bits from the stewards of the past.
“We’ll never go back to the way my parents and grandparents had it. They were totally self sustaining.”
And while there are many drawbacks, Sanchez said there are good things about modern times, as well. He’s seen Chiefland change in many ways for the better since the days when it “ended where the high school was.”
“You still recognize parts of it,” he said, “but there has been significant change. I believe the world gets better. Better educated. Healthier. I am positive they are better off than they were.”