Milking cows, Swiss cheese, hard work - and fun
Peter Fred Grossen was born in Mitholz, Canton of Bern, Switzerland in 1863. In 1879, at the age of 16, he immigrated to the United States with his uncle and homesteaded in Osborn County, Kansas, for 12 years.
When the railroad to Oregon was complete, Peter moved his family and father to northwest Oregon, taking out a homestead along the Nehalem River near Vernonia. After saving enough money, he was able to buy a spot where he could milk cows, grow an apple orchard and produce Swiss cheese. These were the beginnings of the Peter Grossen Farm, which still stands in Helvetia near Hillsboro to this very day.
Grossens great-grandson, Dave, and his wife, Jackie, recently registered the farm in the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program. Every Oregon farm and ranch has a unique history and special family story. The program encourages agriculture families to share these stories. In doing so, rich cultural heritage is passed down to future generations while educating Oregonians about the social and economic impact of Oregon agriculture.
The program began in 1958 to honor farm and ranch families with century-long connections to the land. To qualify for a century or sesquicentennial award, interested families must follow a formal application process. Members of the application review committee review each application against the qualifications, which include continuous family operation of the farm or ranch; a gross income from farm use of not less than $1,000 per year for at least three years out of five prior to application; and family members must live on or actively manage the farm or ranch activities. Usually, application documentation includes photos, original deeds, personal stories or other historic records.
We always had an interest in registering, said Dave Grossen. It was fun to get everything together, do some research, write a few pages of history it was a nice family project.
Barn before house
When his great-grandfather originally bought the farm in 1904, it was brand new, but there was no house on the 72-acre property. Grossen and his family moved into the barn for the first year, until the first house was built. He finished clearing the land, and planted an orchard and established a dairy farm and creamery, milking about 10 Brown Swiss cows and making BergchÍs, the type of Swiss cheese from his homeland. Together with his son, Peter Fred, they also raised and delivered apples, potatoes and cheese into Portland. When Peter Fred married in 1916, another house was constructed on another end of the farm, which Dave and Jackie live in now.
The area is starting to lose its rural roots, but its nice to preserve some farm history here in Helvetia, he said.
Grossen has fond memories of spending sweltering summers harvesting with a crew and moving hay around, only to come home with a steak feast afterward.
Work hard, play hard is our family motto, he said.
He works on the farm part-time, and also works as a mechanical engineer for Vestas, a wind turbines manufacturer. Although the company is based in Denmark, its North American headquarters is located in Portland. Jackie works on aging the Swiss cheese as an affineur, which is a French title for someone who refines cheese. Theyre in the process of creating artisan cheese to sell at farmers markets by as early as next year. Their children, Hank, 21, and Maria, 17, also help to put in work around the property.
Five other farms or ranches from five other counties will be honored this year as century farms or ranches and five farms from four different counties reached sesquicentennial (150 years) status, bringing the total number of Oregon century farms and ranches to 1,181 and sesquicentennial to 38.
The award ceremony took place last weekend at the Oregon State Fair. The award winners received a certificate signed by Gov. Kate Brown and the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Katy Coba.
Historic roadside signs will be imprinted with the founders name and the year the ranch or farm was established.