Still Getting Up with the Cows and the Pigs
Still Getting Up with the Cows and the Pigs
𝗢𝘁𝘁𝗮𝘄𝗮 𝗙𝗮𝗿𝗺𝘀 𝗢𝘄𝗻𝗲𝗿 𝗚𝗼𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗦𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗮𝘀 𝗛𝗶𝘀 𝟵𝟬𝘁𝗵 𝗕𝗶𝗿𝘁𝗵𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝗔𝗽𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀
𝐒𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐛𝐲 𝐒𝐭𝐞𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐏𝐫𝐮𝐝𝐡𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞
𝐏𝐡𝐨𝐭𝐨𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐩𝐡𝐲 𝐛𝐲 𝐋𝐞𝐢𝐝𝐲 𝐋𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫
When he was 15 years old, Pete Waller took over Ottawa Farms after his father passed away. He was the third generation of his family to own the Bloomingdale farm.
Some 75 years later, Waller still owns and runs the farm, unfazed by his advancing years, a rezoning battle that reduced his farm from some 700 acres to 150 acres, and the encroachment of progress all around him as small family farms become an anachronism.
While many his age opt for a slower pace, Waller, 89, is up with the cows and pigs, scores of which call Ottawa Farms home. His daily work schedule is one that people half his age would find challenging.
“Pete’s very active and spunky,” said Anna Walker, who has worked as Waller’s office manager for the past year. “He bales hay, personally checks all the crops and runs the farm. He’s not slowing down at all.”
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐙𝐨𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐁𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐥𝐞
Waller, who owns an insulation company, has the last working farm in the county. In 2019 that status was threatened over a rezoning battle with the City of Bloomingdale to turn the property from agricultural to industrial and take advantage of its close proximity to the port.
Following lengthy negotiations, both sides agreed to a rezoning agreement in which Waller would lease out all but 150 acres of his farm for commercial warehouses. The project calls for nine warehouses to be built on 400 acres over a 10-year period. The agreement also stipulates the farm remains in the family for 100 years.
𝐀 𝐑𝐢𝐜𝐡 𝐇𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲
The farm has been in the Waller family since the 1870s. It owned land on each side of a railroad that ran through the farm and had a trading post and train stop known as Ottawa Depot. Local farmers would load their produce on the train for sale at the market in Savannah.
The depot burned down in 1928 and wasn’t rebuilt due to the growing popularity of Model As and Ts.
The farm was subsequently named Ottawa Farms. Waller’s grandfather was a farmer and railroad engineer who died in a train wreck. He left his farm to Waller’s father and aunt. Waller’s father and his three siblings, along with his widowed grandmother, raised vegetables and sold them at a roadside market at the farm and a market in Savannah.
When Waller was growing up, his father added a sawmill and turpentine business at the farm to go along with the vegetable selling. With no fences, more than 500 cattle roamed from Pooler to Statesboro and surrounding areas. The family also owned 40 mules that were used for vegetable farming.
𝐓𝐚𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐎𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐅𝐚𝐫𝐦
The death of his father forced the teen-aged Waller to grow up in a hurry. “I had to take over and make it happen,” Waller recalled. “At 15 years old, if you didn’t farm you didn’t eat. It was a way of life for me.”
In the 1940s, he continued, life was different from nowadays, when youngsters generally have more options and aren’t placed in a position where they have to work to support the family.
“Back in those days there was a sense of pride in working hard to provide for your family,” Waller said.
What started as a 15-year-old suddenly thrust into the position of taking care of his family developed into a young man who embraced his new path and vocation.
Waller learned at a young age that to survive and succeed he had to stand out from the crowd. He focused on bringing visitors to his farm, specialty crops and black angus cows. Waller built a general store that offers black angus beef, jams, jellies, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables that rotates with the seasons.
“I never allowed anything to stop me from learning and growing, not only as a young man but as an accomplished farmer,” Waller said. “At one time there were 35 dairies and a number of little farms in this county. We are the only one left, so we must have done something right.”
Along with his 100 black angus cows, whose meat he sells to butchers, Waller raises pigs and grows strawberries, blueberries, corn and onions. He also hosts a number of events including an annual strawberry festival and rodeo, pig races, weddings and birthday parties.
Through his many years of owning a farm, Waller, not surprisingly, has met many people, a number of whom are in the political arena. A staunch republican, he served on the county Farm Service Agency for 40 years and was appointed to the state board by two presidents: Bush and Obama.
“Being involved with so many important boards, he had a great opportunity to meet and mingle with so many political figures,” said Walker, noting that his appointments to state boards by presidents from different parties shows his diversity and ability to garner support and friends from both sides of the aisle. “He’s friends with Gov. Kemp. I’m planning a huge party for Pete’s 90th birthday at the Savannah Yacht Club, and the governor might attend.”
𝐀𝐧 𝐈𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐩𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐒𝐩𝐢𝐫𝐢𝐭
Walker describes Waller as a good man with a heart to match who is very inspiring. She said he’s never been the type to rely on others to work on the farm because he knows best how he wants things done. Walker’s independent spirit has helped fuel a long career that shows no sign of ending as he’s about to start his 10th decade of life.
“Pete told me the minute he stops working he’ll die,” Walker said. “He won’t retire.”
Waller concurs. “It’s a natural way of life for me,” said Walker, who attributes his longevity and success to hard work and a positive attitude. “I’ve been doing this for so long I don’t know how not to do it. I still work because it’s what truly brings me joy in life. I enjoy watching crops grow and having a bountiful harvest.”
As to anyone considering a career as a farmer, Waller’s advice is simple and reflects an approach he’s followed for 75 years: “If you want something to happen, you have to make it happen,” Waller said.