October 17, 2005

Five Generations of Hungenberg Produce Co. Work to Cultivate Carrots in Weld

By Bill Jackson, Greeley Tribune, Colo.

Oct. 17--As a youngster, Don Hungenberg can remember working the family farm on Greeley's east side with a pair of horses.

"Dad had an old mare. Her name was Maude. I bet I walked 100 miles behind her," he said, laughing at the memory.

He's now the patriarch of a family that has produced food in the Greeley area for the past 100 years.

What has become Hungenberg Produce Co. was started in 1905 by Don's grandmother, Emily Hungenberg, a widow who came to Greeley in 1904 with three sons, aged 6, 4 and 2. She bought some land at what is now the intersection of 16th Street and U.S. 85 Bypass, and started a truck farming operation the following year.

That farm included carrots, among the many vegetables it produced, and now, 100 years later, Hungenberg Produce is the only carrot producer left in the Rocky Mountain region, supplying such retail outlets as Safeway and Wal-Mart, among others.

Hungenberg said his grandparents immigrated to the United States from a small German hamlet about 50 miles south of Hamburg in the 1890s because there were too many kids for the family farm to support. His grandfather, Joe, had a brother who had a silver mine in Nevada, so he took his family there after leaving Germany.

In 1903, Joe died of pneumonia, probably from working the mine.

Grandmother Emily had some relatives in Greeley, so she sold her half interest in the mine to Joe's brother and came here, Hungenberg said. She used the money to buy a strip of land from 16th Street to 17th Street and from 1st Avenue to the railroad tracks.

Her youngest son, Ed, who was Don's father, turned out to be the farmer/horticulturist in the family. He started experimenting with onion sets in 1918 and worked with seed companies to develop the best carrot for the region while expanding the farm on land near the sugar factory on 1st Avenue under the name Ed Hungenberg Produce. By that time truck farms were a mainstay in east Greeley, along 16th and 18th Streets in particular.

By the 1940s, Don and his younger brother, Ken, who is deceased, were heavily involved in the family business, and it was renamed Ed Hungenberg and Sons.

Ed Hungenberg retired in 1954, and the business, by then located on East 18th Street, was renamed Hungenberg Brothers, with Don and Ken sharing the duties. That business was dissolved 20 years later, and Ken moved his family south into the Peckham area where his son, Dave, continues to farm.

Don renamed the business Hungenberg Produce Co. when his oldest son, Mike, joined him 1974, followed by son Paul, in 1978. In 1993, Ed Hungenberg died. This spring, Mike and Pam's oldest, Eric, earned a degree in business from Colorado Christian College and joined the business, becoming the fifth generation Hungenberg to be involved in the operation.

The business capitalized on a growing snack trend -- baby peeled carrots -- in 1994 at its processing facility at Lucerne. In 2003, Hungenberg Produce moved into the former Monson Brothers facility northwest of Greeley and doubled its baby carrot line this year. About a third of the carrots Hungenberg now grows are sold as the snack food.

In 2005, Hungenberg Produce farms 3,000 acres in the Greeley area, with 900 of those devoted to carrots. The company also grows and packages cabbage and onions, as well, along with other crops which are used in a rotation program. Don concentrates on sales, Paul is in charge of processing facilities in Greeley and Lucerne, Mike handles the farming operations and Eric is in charge of shipping.

In the summer and fall, the company has about 185 employees; 13 of them are full time who work throughout the year.

HUNGENBERG CARROTS BY THE NUMBERS

22 Loads of carrots processed daily

20,000 Pounds of carrots per load

53 million Pounds of carrots processed in a year

17.5 million Pounds marketed as baby peeled carrots, a popular snack food trend

900 Acres devoted to growing carrots

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