Enterprise wins national recognition for farm stories

The dedication to and the hardships caused by farming were central to the stories that resulted in The Altamont Enterprise winning two awards this year from the National Newspaper Association.

H. Rose Schneider, the Enterprise’s Hilltown reporter, won third place in Best News Story for newspapers with a circulation under 6,000 for her story “Sunset on a dairy: Knox farmer who couldn’t break even sells his cows.”

Melissa Hale-Spencer, the newspaper’s long-time editor and current co-publisher, won first place for Best Obituary for daily and weekly papers of all sizes for a tribute to local farming icon Everett Rau.

We are proud to be in the mix with newspapers across the country, each of us telling stories — sometimes sad stories — important to our communities.

Winners will be awarded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in October at the National Newspaper Association’s 133rd annual convention. We won’t be there in person, but in spirit we’ll be with the journalists who gather in America’s heartland, cheering on the winners.

There were 1,303 entries in the Better Newspaper Editorial Contest with awards going to newspapers in 36 states — a cross section of our nation. Iowa had the most wins with 63, followed by Wyoming with 61, and California with 47.

Entries were judged by our peers — active community newspaper editors and publishers, who know the difficulties of pursuing journalism in an era where the press has lately been framed as an enemy of the people  — as well as by retired university journalism professors and retired or former newspaper professionals.


“Sunset on a dairy”

Schneider was alerted to a Facebook post, by a colleague, in which Cheyenne Keppler wrote movingly about the end of an era at her family’s Knox farm. “You who vowed to buy local products — and then went to Walmart to get your dairy and produce,” Cheyenne Keppler wrote. “You who asked what can we do to help. You talked a big game. We waited. We tried for years to come out on top. We waited for you to save us. You failed us. You failed every small farmer across the country. Now we watch every last cow get loaded into a trailer,” she wrote.

Schneider convinced Cheyenne and her father, Paul Keppler, to tell their story. She interwove their story with research on the larger forces causing the demise of dairy farms across the state and the nation.

Schneider began working for The Enterprise three years ago, fresh from the journalism program at the University at Albany. She covers all four Hilltowns as well as the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District.

“The opening sentences pull you into the story,” wrote the NNA judge.

“When Paul Keppler wakes up in the morning, for the first time in years, it’s quiet. But it’s not peaceful; it’s unsettling. Because, on a farm, a quiet morning means something’s wrong,” Schneider’s story begins.

“You captured the heartbreak in words, well supported by photos ... The father-daughter sentiments are strong,” wrote the NNA judge. “Overall a great job!”

Schneider wrote about the day most of the dairy cows were taken away from Knox Valley Farm: Cheyenne Keppler rode her four-wheeler to the top of a hill and watched as the cows were loaded into trucks. She wondered if they would have the same treatment they had gotten at her father’s farm, with pastures to roam in and the healthiest grain to eat. She regrets that the next generation of her family won’t have what she and her sister had.

Schneider also wrote about Paul Keppler’s stubbornness and pride. “I’m not down and out … ,” he said. “I’ve made the choice … Now whether it was the right choice or not, time will tell.”

Giving a nod to the plight of small family farms across the United States, the judge concluded, “There were other entries on the same sad subject — this is the best of those entries. Congratulations, H. Rose Schneider!”

The same story helped The Enterprise garner a statewide award earlier this year for its coverage of agriculture.


Ev Rau

Hale-Spencer had known Ev Rau ever since she started working for The Enterprise more than 30 years ago. She interviewed him for stories ranging from building post-and-beam barns to harvesting grain with antique equipment.

She always admired his pluck.

At the age of 98, Rau told Hale-Spencer he had some things he wanted to share before he died. Hale-Spencer visited him at the farm that had been in his family for centuries and recorded his words for a podcast. When he died, she wrote his obituary.

The NNA judge wrote, “This is a wonderful, best-in-class obit: the story of a fascinating and well-appreciated — but not famous — 98-year-old whose lifelong local history as a farmer is told in a way that compellingly illustrates the person and what he cared about even as it documents his intersections with a number of powerful social issues, from entrepreneurship to domestic abuse to depression to sustainable agriculture.

“Also: the thoughtful pre-need reporting illustrates the value of interviewing remarkable seniors in the community and documenting their lives while they’re still among us.”

One of the stories Rau told was about rescuing the discarded and refashioning it for a noble purpose, which acted as a metaphor for his life.

Rau took discarded roof rafters that had once been “tall proud pine trees” but didn’t fit modern code and fashioned crosses from them to be used in his church’s Easter service.

“Someone comes along and tosses us to the ground. We’re not needed any longer,” Rau said and then, addressing the discarded beams, he went on, “You’ve served a hundred years or more. I’ve another service for you.”

He concluded his story, “When Easter dawn comes and I’m no longer here, my spirit will be here in the cross at Easter service.”

Rau had the ability, even in old age, to reinvent himself, to find new purpose. He became a teacher of old farm ways, a historian for agriculture.

We at The Enterprise are honored to tell the stories of farmers in our midst. Each of us depends on farmers for our sustenance, but how often do most of us think about the work that goes into the food we eat?

We can glean lessons for life from a farmer like Ev Rau. He’d often talk about the old days, where neighbors helped neighbors. He knew about the importance of planting and harvesting when the time was right. He knew how to endure and remain useful.

Although most Americans in our modern society are far from farms, we can still help our neighbors and work together for the common good — maybe to raise consciousness rather than raising barns but nevertheless to sustain our society.

More Editorials

  • As we approach budget-drafting season in our towns, we urge our municipal leaders to set aside some funds for their town historians to carry on worthwhile work. 

  • We strongly advise all of the Westerlo Town Board members to read the Civil Service Law before breaking the law and hiring someone else for the assessor’s job. If the board still wants to remove Peter Hotaling, it must go through the state-required hearing process.

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