By Allison Cloo
If you’re headed east on Highway 213 toward Silverton, there’s a stretch of road that encompasses some of the Willamette Valley’s finest scenery of rolling hills covered with row crops, grass fields, and orchards. After the Pudding River and right before the Brush Creek Playhouse, you’ll find a white building with a cupola perched on the roof.
Climb the narrow steps up to those windows high above the road, and you get a 360 degree view of the heart of Blue Line Farms.
In 1973, when brothers Bob and Bernie Dettwyler consulted an attorney about incorporating their farm, they had picked two names they might use. Brush Creek Farms would have referred to the nearby landscape, but the attorney noted that it might be hard to distinguish from other farms and ranches with “Creek” names.
The second name, referring to their brightly painted Ford tractors, won the day. Forty-five years later, Blue Line Farms is still going strong.
In many ways, the Dettwyler name has been just as enduring.
In 1921, Swiss immigrant Karl Dettwyler started farming part-time on ten acres outside of Silverton. By the time his fourth son Bob had graduated from Silverton High School in 1959, the farm had grown to about 150 acres and grew mainly hops, with some grain and grass seed.
The next decades were a period of growth and transition. Bob took over and increased the acreage by leasing and buying more property. His younger brother Bernie joined him after a two-year tour of duty in Vietnam. Now joined by Bernie’s sons, Karl and Jonathan, the Dettwylers own and lease about 1,100 acres of land.
Pole-beans and hops have made way for blueberries and hazelnuts.
While some things have changed, others have stayed the same: there is still grass-seed, mainly turf-type, and crimson clover. Green beans and other row crops are grown as rotational crops. In 2005 the farm built its own grass seed cleaner. A late-season varietal of blueberries went into the ground in 2007, and 2009 saw the first hazelnuts added to the mix.
After harvest, Blue Line Farms products move mainly through local buyers, processors, and distributors. The grass seed likely travels the farthest, with the nationwide market for lawns and sports fields still relishing high quality Oregon seed, but the blueberries and green beans appear in major supermarket chains and commercial buyers closer to home.
Growing a Business to Match a Family
The rhythms and choices behind the farm’s current set-up might be familiar to many AgLink readers. According to Karl Dettwyler, grandson of the original owner, “The farm looks the way it does today because of the hard work from our employees over the years and our relationships with our partners.” Those partners, from bankers to buyers, “help drive decisions on our cropping systems and the markets that we have access to.” Labor is another big factor in how the Dettwylers operate, and the farm is focused on retaining good employees that can work alongside the growing family.
“As the farm has had to support more family members financially,” says Karl, “we have added more to the operation to try and provide the opportunity to the family members that want to farm.” Even as many of the children and spouses work outside of the farm, they’ll help out as needed. Margaret Dettwyler, Bernie’s wife, is still one of the primary combine operators.
Margaret and Bernie have eleven grandchildren, the oldest of whom is near eighteen, and they have all tried their hand at different farm tasks over the years. That would be the fourth generation of Dettwylers to work on the farm, and preserving the land and business is a main goal for the current operators.
Of his own children, nieces, and nephews, Karl Dettwyler says “we can only hope that they pursue their dreams and passion and hopefully it will include agriculture in some form.”
What makes Blue Line Farms unique?
Step into the main shop building where the owners and employees congregate and a playful personality starts to emerge at Blue Line Farms. Almost immediately to your right, a large glass display cabinet contains hundreds of tiny model tractors and other vehicles, many of them bought from another farmer but obviously displayed with great pride in their new home.
Up the stairs and through another door, it becomes clear that the case is part of a theme: shelves line the walls with dozens of blue Ford tractor models, both historic and modern. Besides the numerous colorful photos hung up between the shelves—courtesy of the snapshots Karl and others take on their cell phones around the farm—there is also a large wooden model of a hop house dryer built by the original Karl Dettwyler for his father-in-law around 1933.
Across the property, in the high-ceilinged storage shed where a bay sits empty of grass seed, Jonathan Dettwyler has played Tetris with several pieces of equipment. A spray buggy towers over a low-slung derocker for the hazelnut orchard, and in the narrow gaps between them you can see a berry picker tucked in the shadows. The arrangement is meant to make the most of the storage space during the winter, but it also speaks to the sense of fun and challenge imbued in unexpected corners of the farm.
And when it comes time to round up the family members working on the farm that day to take a photo, the jokes were flying just as quick as the observations about the different pieces equipment ready to come in or head out. The five Dettwyler men patiently lined up facing into the sun so the grass field and distant trees framed them nicely. It turned out to be a nice enough photo, but snapshots are never quite enough to capture a farm and operators like these: good-natured and game for anything.