Family sows 144 years of tradition on Greeley farm
John Wadlin’s obituary in a 1910 edition of the Greeley Tribune misidentified one of his daughters as Lucy Tigden. The correct name is Lucy Tigges. Her modern-day relatives run Tigges Farm outside of Greeley. The Tribune regrets the error — even if it is more than a century old.
When Greg Goetzel leaves home to tend to the family’s corn and alfalfa crops, his three children, ages 6, 3 and 1, rush to claim the spare seat in the tractor.
Although Austin, Addy and Archer are not the most focused farmers, preferring to play in the dirt rather than study it, they are eager to help their father run the 200-acre Goetzel family farm located between Greeley and Windsor.
The lessons relayed on these tractor rides connect the Goetzel children not only to the land but to the family’s heritage, and the history of their community. The property Goetzel’s children are learning to farm has remained in his family for 144 years, reaching back to founder John Wadlin. The plot is now the oldest, continuously operating farm in the Greeley-Windsor community and the second oldest in Weld County.
“On pretty much every piece of the farm you’ve got stories. It’s not like you just own something. It’s a part of you,” Goetzel said. “A lot of it is family. There aren’t a lot of jobs where you can just bring the kids out with you to work. You can have everybody with you.”
When Goetzel describes the farm as representing family, he does do so lightly. He received the same tractor’s-view education as his children when he was young, as did his father, Richard, and his father before him. The working knowledge of the Goetzel-Wadlin family has been maintained through six generations now, passed on patiently from parent to child.
The roots of the farm reach back to post-Civil War Maine, home to John Wadlin. It was here the calvary veteran first got word of the formation of Union Colony, now known as Greeley. A column in the New York Tribune urged farmers to head west to the banks of the Poudre River. Wadlin took the advice and set up shop in the new community in 1870.
“(He) was one of the first colonists to pin his faith to cultivating the soil by upland irrigation,” reads Wadlin’s obituary from a 1910 edition of the Greeley Tribune.
Wadlin owned one of the largest farms in the colony at the time, according to historian David Boyd, with 400 acres split between five lots for sugar beets, potatoes and corn.
Although farming has changed drastically since Wadlin’s time, his entrepreneurial spirit has helped the family maintain his vision and carry on his legacy.
The farm now occupies about half of its original size and the production has changed, transitioning from sugar beets to dairy to the feed crops planted today.
“They were growing potatoes back in the early part of the century, then they went into sugar beets, feeding corn, various kinds of beans, alfalfa and barely for Coors for a while too,” said Helen Niekelski, who serves as the unofficial family historian.
She does not farm anymore, but she fondly recalled the dairy cows her family kept when she was a child and the jellies her mother would make from the farm’s fruit trees.
Just as her nephew Greg’s children pitch in today, Helen, her brother Richard and the rest of the Goetzel crew spent their days working beside the family.
“When you grow up on the farm, everyone pitches in, everyone has a chore. It’s just something we did. We all went out and picked and then came in with mom and canned,” Niekelski said.
Although she did not pursue farming, Richard did, transitioning back to agriculture after serving as a pilot in the Navy.
“When I came back in 1976, dad was retired and I had to learn fast. The first year, a lot of stuff went wrong because it’s a complicated thing,” he said.
Since those rocky days, Richard has become an expert in all aspects of the farm business from crop management to balancing the books.
“It’s difficult but the harvest comes, and it’s rewarding. Every day is different. There are never two days that are the same,” Richard said.
Greg returned to the farm six years ago, moving his family into one of the property’s two homes and taking over the garden once managed by his grandmother.
“In the yard over there, you can tell grandma came out of the Depression. She had everything. It was difficult just trying to figure out half the plants that are in the regular yard, in addition to cherries, apricots and apples,” he said. “And then when I moved into the house, she had every kind of thing canned. If the apocalypse came, you’d want to be at her house.”
His children now help manage the garden and know when to pick the vegetables when they are ripe.
“They go for walks and when they get back, they check the green peppers and if they’re ready, they bring them home,” he said.
The children’s involvement in the garden has also helped Greg with another task — getting them to eat their vegetables.
“If they say no, well they have to, they grew it. I use that on them, and they’re like ‘yeah, that’s right,’ they did go out there and pull the weeds,” he said. “You don’t want to be wasteful. It’s not like it just popped out of the store.”
Although it is still too early to tell if the newest generation of Goetzels will carry on the family tradition, the children have already found an enthusiasm for farming. One of Addy’s favorite toys in a miniature John Deere combine and Austin can already give a basic lesson on managing irrigation lines. Greg said Archer’s first word, after “mommy” and “daddy,” was “tractor.”
As Niekelski puts it, farming is in the Goetzel family blood: “My dad loved farming, these two guys (Richard and Greg) love farming, and so did grandpa. This is what these guys do.” ❖
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