This story begins more than 100 years ago. On the northern face of Oregon’s Eola Hills, a cherry orchard is planted. On the other side of the world, the forefather of the eventual owner of that Eola orchard was toiling on a settlement farm in Russia. George Brutke was an immigrant farmer in pre-revolutionary Russia. There were sizeable German communities throughout the country, but change and turmoil was in the air, and minority rights were moving in the wrong direction. As the story goes in the Brutke family, George’s farm was conscripted by the government in 1911. He had to find new ground, and that meant going west. Really far west.
Trouble was getting there. George and his wife had nine children. They made it to a port, waited weeks, and finally for the princely sum of $300 received passage to America aboard a cattle ship bound for Texas. George scratched a living out of the land again, this time as a cotton farmer. The family grew to thirteen children, and a few of the older kids packed up for a new life in Oregon. They became enamored with the climate. It felt like home. In 1919, George and the rest of the family followed suit. George bought fifteen acres of timber and brush in the Willamette Valley and set about planting filberts and walnuts.
Herman Brutke was just six at the time. That meant he was working the farm like the rest of the family. When Herman came of age, he bought a nearby 10 acre cherry farm up on the Eola Hills. His plan was to convert it to berries, but cherry prices jumped from 6 to 15 cents per pound. Herman bought another ten acres of cherries for $90 an acre, and the next year made $900 per acre on cherries. He was hooked.
Herman’s orchard was the seed to what stands today as Brutke Farms, a modern cherry orchard in the capable hands of Daryn Brutke and his father Dennis, Herman’s son. In 1957, Dennis finished high school and went into the family business full time. He took on the cherry orchards while Herman raised strawberries. With more than 50 years of experience, Dennis has seen it all by now – penny-a-pound crops, rain split harvests, frozen crops, but just enough good years to make it all worthwhile.
Brutke Farms has officially passed on to the fourth generation of Brutke farmers. Dennis is now the farmhand and Daryn is the boss. They have more than 10,000 trees on the land, and just recently pulled out the original orchard’s one hundred year old trees. That old wood still produced, but it was time to let the ground go fallow and prepare to plant a new block. Brutke Farms currently has about 220 acres in production, split among sweet cherries, tart cherries, wheat and oats. Harvest is a family effort, with Daryn’s wife Janell, daughter Ally and son Wil all taking part. It is a large operation for one family, and it is as good as any in Oregon.