Verboort family pulls together for award marking 100 years

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The Wil-Rene Dairy, which sits on Visitation Road in Forest Grove, has been granted Century Farm status by the Oregon Farm Bureau. When he sat in the yard watching his dad stack clover, dust floating through evening air that smelled of dry, sweet grass, Wilbur “Pete” Jansen was barely old enough to form his first memories.

He didn’t know he would help keep his family farm afloat at age 15, after his dad died of a heart condition. He didn’t know he would eventually raise his family there, and pass down to his own son what his father and grandfather worked so hard to pass down to him.

Along with the actual parcel of land north of Forest Grove, Pete inherited a love for the soil that has had his surname on it since 1877.

This summer, Pete decided to work with his children to gather up the memories and records from the last 100 years, and apply for the Century Farm & Ranch award through the Oregon Farm Bureau.

They’ll attend an Oregon State Fair Ceremony Aug. 23 with seven other farm and ranch owners from seven different counties, along with two farms that have reached sesquicentennial status — owning the farm for 150 years. Century Farm status is granted to families who have owned, lived on, and farmed or managed the farming of the same parcel of land for at least 100 uninterrupted years.

Not only are the Jansens the increasingly rare sort who make their living farming, they operate one of the few dairy farms left in Washington County, Wil-Rene Farms on Visitation Road in Verboort. Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Wilbur Pete Jansen (left) still consults with his oldest son, Mike, who took over the dairy.

The Jansens’ Forest Grove history started in 1875 when Hendrina Janssen traveled on a train to Oregon with her son, Peter Jansen (who dropped the second ‘s’), and his wife, Johanna. They bought the original piece of the family farm in 1877. Five years later, Hendrina sold her share to Peter for one dollar, and Peter was able to purchase an additional 45 acres by 1894. Johanna died three years later after giving birth to her 14th child.

With failing health, Peter started dividing up the land among his 13 living children around 1913. His sixth child, Albert Jansen, took his 10-acre plot and built a dairy barn by 1916, the same one that stands today. That’s the farm Pete took over at 15 with his mother, Dora, and oldest brother, Maurice.

All of Pete’s other siblings got jobs off the farm, including Larry Jansen, a famed pitcher for the New York Giants in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But Maurice stayed close by and helped out.

Pete was young when he chose his life path, but he took to farming right away. “I liked the farm,” he said. “I liked the cows and had to help mom.”

He purchased the farm’s first tractor — a good excuse to get rid of the horses, which he never liked.

Pete raised his seven children on the farm with his wife Irene, whom he met at barn dance when he was 17 and attending Verboort High School with only three other kids in his class.

“It was a good place to raise a family,” Pete said. “Not many people get to raise kids on a farm anymore. They got to watch the new calves being born.”

Pete retired in 1993, about the same time his youngest son Daniel left to attend college and four years after Irene’s death. Pete’s oldest son, Mike Jansen, inherited his father’s bovine love and took over the operation with his wife, Sherry.

“I just liked the farm and working with the cows,” said Mike, who used to leave Visitation elementary and middle schools at lunch time to feed the cows, and made dairying his full-time job after high school. “Nothing else ever interested me.”

Today, their dairy herd includes 80 Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Holstein milking cows with another 80 head of replacement heifers. They grow winter wheat, alfalfa, grass hay, red clover, silage corn, oats and peas, and maintain pasture land on their 170 acres. Although Pete now lives in a local assisted-living center, he still visits the farm and consults with Mike.

Together they’ve ridden the well-known highs and lows of the dairy business. “The ups and downs are the only thing that’s consistent,” Mike said.

Milk prices, which are federally regulated, hit historic lows in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, dairy exports “quit overnight,” Mike said.

“We’re still trying to fill in the hole from a few years ago,” he said. “We know many people who put their savings into the farm just to keep it going.”

The dairy market has become increasingly global over the last decades and the U.S. dairy business relies heavily on exports, so even dairy farmers in Washington County depend on foreign markets.

IPhoto Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Peter Jansen stands with his new foal probably between 116 and 1919 on the Jansen farm he helped establish with his mother, Hendrina Janssen. n the last couple years, dairy prices have rebounded. Australia and New Zealand — two countries notorious for cheap milk production — experienced droughts and couldn’t produce as much, giving U.S. producers an edge again.

With hard work and good luck, Mike hopes to keep the farm running until he retires, when maybe one of his two sons in their early 20s — the sixth generation — will want to take over. He hopes farming will remain a possibility for future generations of Jansens. The ever-encroaching urban sprawl makes him nervous, as does the general public’s lack of knowledge about where food comes from.

For now, though, the Jansens continue to milk twice a day every day on their family land where “it’s still relatively quiet,” according to Mike.

“It’s home,” said Pete.

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