Celebrating 40 Years
From left: 1991, Ben Mitchell III, Rich Birkemeier, Fred Herring, John Newell, Ben Mitchell Jr.
This fall is the beginning of Willamette Hazelnut’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. Willamette is the longest running full service hazelnut supplier in America. We kicked the celebration off with our First Annual Harvest Party where we had a BBQ, mingled with growers, and released our company video, which can be found on our website, Facebook page, and YouTube.
Willamette Filbert Growers, Inc. started when John Newell, Ben Mitchell Jr. and Dick Birkemeier built the first dryer in 1975. The processor they belonged to was showing signs of uncertainty for the future, so they left and built their own plant in Newberg. They hoped to become a leader in the emerging industry and create higher returns. Each of our founders has since received the “Grower of the Year,” award and served as Nut Growers Society President.
When Willamette was first built, it was to process the three families’ crops. “The dryer had a 35 ton capacity and was filled 2-3 times a year,” John Newell recalls. Soon neighbors with orchards began to come to Willamette for their processing needs.
Willamette rebranded as Willamette Hazelnut in 2012 with the third generation of managers. The term hazelnut was more widely used and recognized around the market.
Willamette’s signature saying “Growers First” originated from the company being built by growers who wanted to see a change in the industry. The owners were able to provide growers insight from their personal experiences and apply “Growers First” to their every day operations whether it was harvesting or selling their crop to hazelnut end users.
Throughout the years, our owners have followed the founder’s footsteps by serving the industry. Now in our third generation, we assist the development of new varieties, hold grower forums, and continue to serve on industry committees to help improve Oregon’s footprint in the global market.