Petaluma Feed Mill Captures the Eye of Local Artist

On January 17, 2013, Petaluma photographer, Scott Hess, posted a wonderful image of the Hunt & Behrens feed mill located on Lakeville Street on Face Book. Scott explains how the steam is used to soften the corn coming by on a conveyor belt. From there it is flattened into flakes for feed. This mill handles several types of grain including corn, wheat, and barley which are mixed to various specifications.

This is a process that was likely in place in 1921 when Marvin Hunt and Carl N. Behrens first established their mill at the foot of C Street in a warehouse they purchased from Achille Kahn.

Photo courtesy of the Petaluma Museum

By the summer of 1922, the mill not only had the advantage to being situated on the Petaluma River, but with the completion of the P&SR West Petaluma Spur and associated trestle (visible in the picture to the left), they had the advantage of being able to ship by rail and river.

Both men recognized the need for better feeding rations and improved feeding programs and dedicated their operation to two primary goals: customer service and efficiency in production to keep costs low. By keeping to these goals, Hunt & Behrens kept pace with the innovative changes that occurred during the ‘20s and ‘30s and it wasn’t long before they saw the need to expand their operation.

Hunt and Behrens employees. Photo taken 1923. Image donated to the Library by Mildred Baptista Eaton in 1990. Her father, Tony Baptista, is standing at the far left behind a hand cart with a cap on. Not sure why sack of grain has the Golden Eagle name on it. Mr. Baptista worked for Hunt & Behrens from 1921 to 1962

Construction of a new plant on Bridge Street (now Lakeville Street) began in 1940 but because of World War II the completion was delayed until 1947. Due to wartime shortage of available steel the new mill was built using wooden beams and today it is the only one of its kind in California.

It was at the Bridge Street plant that the first bulk delivery of mixed feeds was initiated. During the 1950s, both the storage and milling facilities were doubled in size. By the 1970s, a second mill was constructed. The purpose of the second mill was to allow Hunt & Behrens to conduct all its operations under one roof while maintaining the flexibility of operating the poultry feed division separately from the dairy feed division.

The location on Bridge Street afforded the same transportation advantages as the C Street site, but now instead of the river the company depends on trucks and trains to haul their feeds to customers.

After a 10 year hiatus, the NWP resumed freight rail service in July 2011 and as of December 2011 rail delivery was saving Hunt & Behrens $15-$17 a ton over trucking. To read more about the relationship between agriculture and rail see Cooperative Extension of Marin County’s blog posted by director David Lewis at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Grown_in_Marin/Grown_In_Marin_News/GIM_News_Fall_2012/Agriculture_rides_the_rails_again/

Today Hunt & Behrens is not only the oldest, continuously operating feed mill in Sonoma County, but for the past 10 years has been a major supplier of organic feed. Hunt & Behrens contributes greatly to the region’s economic well being and is a visual landmark.

About Katherine J. Rinehart

Katherine J. Rinehart received a MA in History from Sonoma State University in 1994. For the past 19 years, Ms. Rinehart has worked in various positions within the fields of Cultural Resource Management and Historic Preservation and is currently employed by the Sonoma County Library where she has worked in the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Department since 2002. Katherine is the author of Petaluma: A History in Architecture, a contributor to Celebrating Petaluma published by the Petaluma Sesquicentennial Committee and the Petaluma Visitors Program. Ms. Rinehart is an occasional contributor to the Press Democrat and is proud to be a Petaluma Good Egg.
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