CORNELL - The four-generation VanDrese Dairy and Potato Farm goes way back - about 100 years, in fact.
"It keeps me going," said Betty VanDrese, 84, who said she still chases the cows back into the barn in the morning and helps out when someone needs a pin put in the wagon.
Charles and Emma VanDrese started the farm in 1914 as a small farm of 98 acres with 20 milking dairy cows. Back then, milk was collected from the cows, placed into cans and stored in cold water.
Cows enjoying some feed at the VanDrese Dairy and Potato Farm. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)
The VanDreses also had 10 acres of potatoes picked by hand and stored in the farmhouse's basement. To make ends meet, however, Charles also cut timber in the woods.
It also didn't hurt the couple had 11 children to help with the chores and help the family farm grow.
Expansion took place in 1945 when a potato warehouse was built, with about 10 acres of this crop planted.
In 1950, a new barn was built especially for milking cows.
Two years later, Carl and Betty VanDrese took over the farm. They kept busy, milking around 25 cows with the capability of milking four at a time.
After a short hiatus in growing potatoes, production resumed in 1973 when the farm's first potato harvester was purchased. After that, more and more potatoes were planted every year since.
In 1984, a second addition was made to the warehouse, with a third addition to double the total potato storage and processing space taking place in 1993. Eventually more than 100 acres of potatoes were produced on the farm, a number that's grown to its current 125 acres.
However, the dairy operation wasn't neglected, and in 2006, a free stall barn was constructed.
The farm now owns 700 acres and rents about 200 acres. Three of Carl and Betty's sons, Galen, Wendell and Doug, continue to operate the farm with the help of a fourth generation.
"They enjoy farming," Betty said. "Lots of work, but they enjoy it."
How does it work, running a combination dairy/potato operation?
"One helps the other with the payments and stuff," Betty said. "It costs money to farm."
Third-generation farmer Galen said the farm's stock now includes 100 milking cows and 250 young stock.
On the spud side of things, VanDrese potatoes, he noted, are delivered to stores in Escanaba, Iron Mountain and Marquette, and come in the white and Russet varieties.
Not only has the VanDrese farm been around for a century, it has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Good Agriculture Practices since 2009. This program, which is renewed annually, verifies the products produced at a farm are packed, handled and stored in the safest possible way.
The VanDrese farm also is certified in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, a comprehensive, voluntary and proactive program in which farmers are taught how to identify and prevent environmental risks through education, farm-specific risk assessment and on-farm verification that ensures the farm has used environmentally sound practices.
Each of MAEAP's three systems - farmstead, cropping and livestock - looks at different aspects of the farm. The VanDrese Farm has been verified in all three systems.
Having been in the area for 100 years, it's not hard to believe the VanDrese farm is entrenched in the community. In 2012, the farm was the only U.P. farm chosen to be a "Breakfast on the Farm" site, where people visited as part of a series of family-oriented events launched by Michigan State University Extension to bring urban consumers out for a free pancake breakfast, tours and agricultural exhibits.
According to the Michigan Potato Industry Association, the VanDrese Farm was the first in the series to also feature potatoes.
"It's grown quite a lot since my dad had it," Galen said of the farm.
However, that's probably not a bad thing, at least in the agricultural world.
"If you're not growing, you're going backwards," he said.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.