Ryan Bartelheimer (left) Michelle Bartelheimer and Andrew Bartelheimer are surrounded by dairy cows at the family farm in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ryan Bartelheimer (left) Michelle Bartelheimer and Andrew Bartelheimer are surrounded by dairy cows at the family farm in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Farm family discovers ‘the legacy of that first 40 acres’

The Bartelheimers, of Snohomish, were chosen as this year’s Snohomish County Centennial Farm Family.

SNOHOMISH — Andrew Bartelheimer, now 17, bottle-fed calves when he was in elementary school, working alongside his grandfather.

He’s the fifth generation on dairy land in the Snohomish River Valley. The Bartelheimers were honored as this year’s Snohomish County Centennial Farm Family.

Andrew’s great-great-grandfather, Fred Bartelheimer, was a German immigrant who bought 40 acres in Snohomish because it reminded him of home. With land purchases over the last century, the most recent in 2000, those 40 acres grew to 600. The family now leases to a dairy farmer with 1,100 cows that produce milk for Darigold.

Ryan Bartelheimer, 49, is Andrew’s father and one of five siblings who have minority shares in the farm. They are the fourth generation. Their parents, Dale and Lillian, are majority owners.

From a dirt track just outside a barn that can hold 400 cows, Ryan points to other farms that have ties to his family, now or in the past.

“If you look at an ownership map from the ’50s, you see that the Bartelheimers owned a lot of this part of the valley,” he said.

As he gathered information for the award, Ryan learned about “the legacy of that first 40 acres,” he said. He’d been to family reunions and heard stories from the large, extended Bartelheimer clan, a number of whom are involved in farming. But seeking tales about the original farm was different.

A cow enjoys its food in the sun at the Bartelheimers’ farm Aug. 17 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A cow enjoys its food in the sun at the Bartelheimers’ farm Aug. 17 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“This is the most interested I’ve been in family history,” he said. “It’s given us a more complete picture of the legacy of this farm.”

It starts with Fred Bartelheimer. He settled in Nebraska, where he married Agnes and they started a family. They worked a farm there, but the story goes that Fred missed his homeland. Nebraska’s open fields were alien.

In letters exchanged with another immigrant he’d met on their way to the United States, Fred learned of Snohomish. In 1909, he went with a group from Nebraska to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. He bought 40 acres of farmland at auction.

In 1912, the family sold their livestock in Nebraska, aside from a few cows and chickens that would accompany them west. Fred traveled to Snohomish and later was joined by Agnes and the children. Agnes, born and raised in Nebraska, arrived at night. The next morning, she was alarmed to find her chickens roosting among old-growth trees, according to the family history.

Fred and Agnes Bartelheimer had 11 children. Five became farmers.

Workers clean and check the milking machines at the Bartelheimer farm. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Workers clean and check the milking machines at the Bartelheimer farm. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fred, who died in 1967, sold part of the original farm to his son, Reinhold “Reiny” Bartelheimer, not long before the road that bisected the family’s land became U.S. 2. Two of Reiny’s brothers and two sisters had dairies nearby.

Reiny left the farm to his four children. Two of them took over: Brothers Alan and Dale, who is Ryan’s father.

Ryan and Michelle’s four children have stayed involved in agriculture.

Daughters Marcy and Becca were Snohomish County dairy ambassadors. Marcy, 22, graduated from Washington State University with a degree in animal science. Becca, 20, is studying viticulture there. Youngest son Declan, 15, goes to Snohomish High School.

Andrew, 17, is headed into his senior year at Snohomish High. He’s a two-term FFA president. He wants to study animal and plant science at WSU, and maybe take some business classes to round out his knowledge for running a farm, he said. He’ll likely work at his uncle’s place near Othello for a while. He eventually hopes to either farm on the Snohomish property or start his own dairy.

Ryan Bartelheimer studied agricultural engineering and works for the Snohomish Conservation District. He supports his children’s interest in agriculture.

“As much as part of me would love to be farming, I get a sense of purpose from helping others with their farming and agriculture needs,” he said.

He’s done his share of the work.

As a kid, he helped clear pens by using a pitchfork to break up sawdust compacted by cow manure. He learned to drive a tractor when he was in fifth grade, and later handled harvesting equipment.

“I was more interested in the field work than the cattle work,” he said. “It’s really easy to have a pretty simplified view of what it takes to be a farmer.”

It’s more than physical labor. There’s strategy, he said. Farmers always are making decisions on how to run their fields, barns and businesses, while outside forces such as floods or droughts can derail plans.

While gathering family history, Ryan Bartelheimer gained a sense of what life on the farm was like before his time.

For example, cows were at one point milked on both levels of a two-story building. There were gaps between the boards that separated the stories, so milking on the bottom level “had its disadvantages,” he said.

He also heard about how his Nebraskan great-grandmother felt claustrophobic surrounded by trees and hills.

And he came to understand that buying those first 40 acres was his great-grandfather’s way of going home.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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