This is an narrative that was put together for our Century Farm application. I will mention that I did make a few changes to make it more up-to-date and threw out some parts that I thought unnecessary. I am so proud of my dad for being the one who is keeping the farm going, even through tough times, when even some family did not support him. I love both my parents so much and would like to thank them for making it possible for me to live and use the same land as my great-great grandparents. I also want to thank my great-great grandparents for being brave enough to face the challenge of coming to the United States and for choosing such a beautiful place to settle. I hope that I can continue the tradition, raise my family on the farm, and pass it on to them.
Well…here it is. It’s a little long, but worth the read.
Since 1902, five generations of the Hentze family have lived on a small river bottom farm located two miles due east of Junction City, Oregon. The distinctive farming style practiced by the Hentze clan can be traced back to Johan Hentze who immigrated to the United States from the Faroe Islands. For more than a century the unspoken goal, “to perpetuate the good in life”, has driven family members to preserve in the creation of a small but operational farm.
The Hentze narrative begins on a sparsely populated archipelago in the mid-north Atlantic, between Iceland and Norway. Johan Mikal Hentze Joensen and Arina Poulsen(my great-great-grandparents) were born and raised on the Faroe Islands; however, because their desire to marry was met with staunch resistance, they left the islands sometime in the 1880’s. They then married in Denmark. Their aim to immigrate to the United States was improbable since they were a young couple and likely lacked the funds necessary to make the trip across the Atlantic. It is our understanding that sponsorship from the Danish Lutheran Church of America allowed them to realize their vision of building a new life in America. The name Joensen was dropped upon arrival in the states. Johan was often referred to as John and Arina as Arine.
Johan and Arina first traveled to Nebraska before settling in Chicago, Illinois where their sons Ejner and Bue were born. In Chicago they connected with their life-long friend and realtor A.C. Nielsen. A.C. was established with the Danish Lutheran Church in Chicago. Johan was schooled as a carpenter and became quite skilled in his trade. After nine years they left Illinois and went with A.C. to Withee, Wisconsin, a logging town where carpentry work was plentiful.
They stayed two years in Withee before making the move to Junction City, Oregon in 1902. A.C. Nielsen had purchased an option on 1600 acres east of town which he eventually divided into parcels ranging in size from 20 to 80 acres. His intent was to sell these parcels to other Danish settlers. Johan and Arina purchased a 42 acre parcel which is now known as the “Hentze Farm.”
In the Danish style the Hentze’s, “Raised a small number of hogs, cows and chickens. They cultivated small fields of wheat and barley, had twelve acres of prune orchard and harvested some potatoes to sell. There was also a large house garden with green and red cabbage, beans, peas, corn and strawberries. The garden also featured curly kale, the essential base for a prized soup.”(Oregon Danish Colony/ Gerald Rasmussen and Otto. N. Larsen)
Johan and Arina’s original house burned in 1938. Many of the original records and pictures were destroyed in that fire, making it difficult to put together and accurate account of the farms early years. Johan was 78 years old at the time of the fire and built a new house which is currently occupied by his great-grandson and his wife and daughter.(That’s me!)
Ejner, Johan’s eldest son, grew up on the farm and graduated from Junction City High School in 1913. He also attended Oregon Agriculture College, now Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Oregon. He married Olga Sem in 1918. As a wedding gift, Johan and Arina bought the new couple 40 acres adjoining their farm. There was an existing house on the property where Ejner and Olga raised three kids: Merle(my grandpa), Marilyn and John. The home still stands today and is occupied by a farmhand who has been employed with the Hentze’s for more than 25 years.
Ejner planted walnut and cherry orchards and tended these crops until his retirement. He also cultivated logan and boysen berries. Ejner employed local students to help with cultivation and harvest beginning in 1939.
Ejner acquired several pieces of property over the years in Junction City and ultimately willed them to his children. Through Ejner’s will, Merle acquired the 40 acres that had been Ejner and Olga’s wedding gift from Johan and Arina.
Merle, Ejner’s eldest son, graduated from Oregon State University in 1942 with a B.S. in agriculture. He married Alice Glenn, who also went to Junction City High School and attended OSU. As newly weds they rented a house on an adjacent farm until a permanent home could be built.
Merle’s farming career began when he bought a Guernsey cow calf pair from Johan in 1942. He also raised sheep and cows in his first years. Since there was only 11 tillable acres on the original 42 acres he spent several years clearing timber and eventually bought the home piece from Arina in 1953, after Johan’s death.
What became their permanent home was first intended to house chickens, but this “coop” was remodeled to be their residence when Merle abandoned the idea of raising chickens. Merle and Alice raised their four children; Dick, Karen, Gordon(my dad) and Greg in the small but tidy farm house. It has been remodeled four times over the years; most recently by Karen and her husband Gene who reside there to take care of Alice. (My grandma)
In 1947 Merle converted an existing barn for use in a dairy venture. He milked 20 cows at a time, producing approximately 600 pounds of milk per day which he sold to Darigold. Sadly, he sold the cows in 1967 when he believed you either had to get bigger or get out.
Merle also raised strawberries, raspberries, cherries, corn and pole beans. As many as 200 youth were employed each summer to harvest his crops. Most were transported to and from town in the back of his two-ton flatbed truck. In 1961 he bought a used school bus for that purpose.
In a tough farming economy Merle scaled back his operation and went to work for Agripac in 1970. To make ends meat, Alice worked as a florist in Junction City. Merle found strawberries and raspberries still sold well directly to the public. He also continued to tend his cherry orchard and sold his crops to Willamette Cherry Growers and Oregon Cherry Growers. He raised mint for a couple years as well as additional field and row crops. He was chosen to pilot a yellow wax bean crop for Agripac. In 1967 and 1968 he raised fresh produce that was marketed through a friend’s grocery store in South Eugene. For extra income Merle and Alice even crafted wooden toys and puzzles for a friend who sold them throughout Oregon and Colorado. They used the then vacant dairy barn as a shop.
Merle and Alice worked long hours together in order to keep the farm productive. Many former employees have returned to share with them how rewarding and educational it had been to work on their farm.
When Merle sold the dairy in 1967 his son Gordon purchased two Black Angus heifers to fill the void. Those two heifers were the foundation of a small herd he tended until his sophomore year at Oregon State University. After graduating with a B.S. in zoology and serving three years in the Peace Corps, Gordon returned to Junction City with a desire to farm. In 1984 he converted the old dairy barn into a country store where he sells fruits, vegetables and nuts. The milk parlor has been fitted with food processing equipment purchased from the cannery where his father had worked.
Gordon and his wife, Jan, (my parents) have each participated in the Master Food Preserver and Master Gardener programs offered by the Lane County Extension Service, which sadly closed down to lack of funding in September 2010. Hentze Farm was honored as Cooperator of the Year by the Extension Service in 2006. Gordon and Jan have also found it necessary to work away from the farm in order to make ends meat. Gordon works as a maintenance man and bus driver at a local school and Jan works at a nearby city library.
Jan has recently resurrected the idea of raising chickens in the farm, a venture which has blossomed in the past two years. Ejner and Merle might chuckle at the thought of Jan collecting $5.00 for each dozen of eggs she collects. Kalina, Gordon and Jan’s daughter, has recently started her own section of the farm. She raises lambs and feeder calves for meat, and has Nubian goats and a Jersey heifer that she plans on breeding and starting her own small scale raw milk dairy in March 2012. Johan and Arina would be please that after five generations the Hentze family is still able to maintain a lifestyle and business similar to that which they began in 1902.
The Hentze Farm has become a popular destination for home food preservers from the communities of Eugene, Springfield and Junction City. The farm draws customers from all over the state and has had visitors from all the continents of the world, excluding Antarctica. In 2010 the farm was a feature of the Junction City Scandinavian Festival Farm Bus Tour.
Many see the Hentze Farm as a passionate work in progress. While we love to reminisce, we are looking forward to the unspoken goal to perpetuate the good life. The Hentze family is proud of its heritage and continues to work hard and keep the farm in productive. We love farming and our hope is to keep that option open to future generations.
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