Raised by his grandparents, Jerry Peterson always dreamed of being able to farm, and they too wanted him to have his wishes. There happened to be a farm where a husband had passed away. It was 90 acres in the Woodland Bottoms along the Columbia River. His grandparents agreed to buy it from the widow if she would loan him 20,000 dollars. It was February of 1959 and he was 19. Seven thousand dollars went for a milk tank she had, and with the balance of the money he bought 35 cows. He milked them and worked in a feed mill the first couple years to make ends meet. He rented the farm from his grandparents at the time, and in 1962 was joined by his wife Roberta which was a great help. They kept trying to figure out how to milk more cows and increases production. Finally in 1965 they were able to get a FHA loan to buy the farm from his grandparents on a 40 year loan. Following years were blessed with 5 children and by the time they were 3 or 4 they all had jobs to do to help pay for the farm. Then in 1968 they were honored to be Dairy Family of the Year and the youngest family ever to be honored at the time.
Each cow had to be milked twice a day. Milking started at 6:00 in the evening and would finish at 3:00 in the morning. Three hours later the first cows would be waiting at the gates of the parlor ready for their next milking. This relentless cycle continued day in and day out. Tending to sick cows, bottle feeding the calves, fixing fences, growing silage, and cleaning stanchions also required attention. But the years of hard work were not without reward.
The 1980s were a particularly difficult period for dairy farmers. Over supply caused low prices. The Government held several buyouts of dairy farms to prop up the struggling dairy industry. In 1987 they reluctantly offered the cows at what they felt to be an unreasonably high price. To their surprise the government accepted their offer. Faced with the choice of slaughtering the cattle or shipping them out of the country, they chose the only one they felt their conscience could bare- they transported the cows to Canada. When they went out of the dairy business, they were milking 550 cows and had a total of 1500.
Suddenly, without the endless burden of dairy cattle and acres of rich, fertile soil from years of dairy cattle they decided to plant raspberries. They harvested the first crop in 1988. In 1993 they built a small processing plant that used a technique called tray freezing to process the 200 acres of raspberries they now had planted. While effective in producing individually frozen berries, the process didn’t allow the berries to be washed to protect against microorganisms.
Seeing the berry industry walk towards better food safety standards, Marty Peterson with his wife Denise bought out the others in 1999 and started Columbia Fruit, LLC. In 2000 they purchased an individual quick freeze (IQF) tunnel and a nitrogen immersion bath that allowed the fragile berries to be cleaned, washed and then frozen. At -365 degrees the cryogenic liquid nitrogen instantly freezes the outermost crust of the berry locking in the flavor, juice and aroma. The berries are then transported into the IQF tunnel where cold air freezes the berries to 0 degrees in less then 5 minutes preserving the quality, flavor, and identity of the berry naturally with no preservatives.
Slowly using the same integrity and work ethic instilled milking cows, they grew the business. They planted Raspberries, Blueberries, Strawberries, Marionberry Blackberries, and Boysenberries. In 2002 they purchased packaging equipment to polybag for retail and wholesale. In 2005 they added a Cold storage to store more product on site and reduce their carbon footprint. In 2007 they added a new IQF Freezer Tunnel almost tripling production capacity. Today they now process an assortment of berries Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries(Kotata, Obsidian, Nightfall, Black Diamond, Sylvan, Chester, Hull, Navajo and Evergreen) Marionberries, Strawberries, Rhubarb, and Cranberries
First IQF Freezer Tunnel 2003
Inspection Conveyors 2003
Jerry and Roberta in front of dairy after receiving dairy of Merit Award