Co-op Member Spotlight: Brentano Farms

Brentano Farms, St. Paul, OR

Farming is a family affair at Brentano Farms and Brentano’s Tree Farm, situated on over 2,500 acres in St. Paul, OR. While it may be easy to get caught up in the size and scale of their farming operations, they attribute the generational family values set by Ed and Carol Brentano as paramount to their growth and success.

Dan & John Brentano

Combined, the diversified farms, growing hazelnuts, garlic for seed, green beans, edible squash seed, field corn, tall fescue grass seed, crimson clover, wheat, and a wide variety of nursery stock, including shade and ornamental trees, are cared for by four brothers and their wives, along with four of their daughters currently part of the day-to-day operations. In addition, they have 30 full-time employees, seasonal help as needed, and another daughter returning to the tree farm after she accomplishes her goal of hiking the entire Pacific Coast Trail.

Brentano Family

Setting goals and accomplishing them is something this family is clearly good at. Brothers John, Tom, Dan, and Pete, alongside their mom Carol, have been continuing what Ed Brentano started in 1956 when he returned to St. Paul after his service in the Army and leased his first 160 acres with the option to buy. He purchased that dryland and livestock farm within the first year. In 1960, after growing up on the same road together their entire lives, both on family farms dating back to the 1860s, he married Carol Ernst. They went on to have six children and got into irrigated row crops in the late ’60s, primarily growing green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and strawberries for local canneries through the ’70s.

Brentano’s Tree Farm

They planted their first hazelnut orchard in 1978, which is still a growing part of their business today. As local canneries were phasing out the Brentano’s transitioned some of their land into grass seed and other crops. It was in 1989 when they planted their first nursery trees. “I remember Dad saying, I don’t know how we can have you all back here, but I’d sure like to try,” Dan reminisced. “Shortly after, I saw our brother Tom out planting some nursery trees, dad and the four of us boys decided to start Brentano’s Tree Farm,” he said. “The nursery business is a big part of what we do today, and while we try to keep the two businesses separate the nursery has been a great compliment to our farming,” John added.

Carol Brentano

While Ed passed away in 2008, he served on the Wilco Board of Directors for nine years, including a year as Chairman. Carol remained an integral part of the farm until a few years ago and is still known to head out with an empty bucket, ready to pick the first green beans of the season. Their greatest legacy may be instilling the love of farming into their family. All six of Carol and Ed’s kids remain in St. Paul and farm with their spouses, including their two daughters Peggy (and husband Kevin) and Kathy (and husband Greg). Of their 20 grandkids, 17 have worked on the farms in some capacity, with the seventh generation currently playing in the dirt at Brentano Farms. “I knew I wanted to be a farmer by the time I was old enough to walk and loved being my dad’s shadow,” Dan said. “It’s an awesome thing to plant a seed and get a harvestable crop in a few months, and to know that goes on to feed the world. I can’t get enough of it – it’s like you can almost see a smile on the bean plant once it gets water.”

Tessa Brentano, Dan’s Daughter

Each of the family members plays a pivotal role in the farm. John and Dan work in tandem, managing the vegetable crops, hazelnuts, grass seed, and all row crops for both farms, with Dan focusing on the shop, equipment, groundwork, and irrigation, and John overseeing the hazelnut orchards, fertilizing, spraying, and the office needs. John’s wife K’Lyn supports the crew, while daughter Stephanie handles all office administrative work in addition to assisting with groundwork and spraying. Dan’s wife Tani and daughter Laney also do groundwork and Laney is central to the technology side of irrigation, with more and more wireless communication at play.

Stephanie Brentano, John’s Daughter

Tom and his wife Janis and two daughters Sammi and Sydney oversee the seed cleaner operation, as well as their own hazelnut farm and turf breeding business. Pete and his wife Wendy manage the day-to-day operations of the tree business, with their daughter Elizabeth joining them soon. “I’ve never seen a family dynamic quite like ours,” Laney said. “Being in a small town, cousins feel like siblings. We all have a core value of compassion and working with my dad and cousins, developing relationships, and communicating with family and employees is what makes our business work,” Laney added. “Farming is a great life-learning opportunity and having a front-row seat to family and how they do life is an added bonus.”

Community service is a big part of the Brentano’s DNA. “Neither mom or dad ever wanted to say no, so they both served on lots of boards and taught us to carry that spirit on. They both volunteered for 30 years at St. Paul Fire, mom as an EMT and dad as a firefighter. All four of us boys, both brother-in-law’s, and a few of the grandkids have served as St. Paul volunteer firefighters as well,” John said. Several Brentano’s are also members of the St. Paul Rodeo Association, volunteering heavily at the annual event, and many family members serve on industry boards, including Laney on the Vegetable Commission and Elizabeth serving as the first President of NexGen Horticulturists. Kathy’s husband, Greg Wilmes, recently retired from the Wilco Board of Directors after serving as Vice Chairman.

Tani Brentano, Dan’s Wife

The Brentano’s have strong connections with Wilco, being part of the founding membership of Hazelnut Growers of Oregon (HGO) and still shipping a large portion of their hazelnuts to the cooperative. They also purchase all of their petroleum and propane needs from Wilco, work with Valley Ag on certain crops, and shop at the Wilco Farm Stores. “With Wilco being farmer-owned you have a confidence in the decision-making of the board and there is value in that as farmers,” Stephanie said. “The overall diversity that Wilco can help us with on our farms from fuels to fertilizers and the relationships we’ve made with everyone in the various areas from agronomists to board members makes Wilco a family place to be,” Dan added.