Craig Lee hasn’t strayed far from his family roots – or land.
He is part of the fifth generation of Tualatin farmers in a family tree that also includes the Jurgens and Martinazzis. The Lee family land was originally along Borland Road, and Craig, who was the fourth of Loyce Martinazzi and Larry Lee’s five children, considers his childhood pretty idyllic.
“I loved growing up on a farm, but there were always things to worry about, like if it would rain on the hay or the berries,” said Craig, sitting in his daughter Annie’s market store.
Craig started riding horses at 6 or 7 years old, remembering that “my first horse was a big old draft horse named Lollipop,” and his favorite horse was a gray-colored buckskin named Mouse who lived to be 35.
Craig was thrilled to be named Junior High-Point Horseman in 4-H.
“I got a trophy that was bigger than me,” he said. “I quit horse 4-H in the seventh grade, but I should have stayed with it because it was 98 percent girls. But 4-H was a big part of my life, and we went to the Washington County Fair every year.
“My dad wouldn’t let us ride bikes because he thought they were dangerous, but we always had horses and rode around like hooligans. We mostly rode bareback and would grab the halter and lead rope, hop on and start racing.
“We had fast horses. I was a pretty good rider, but one ran away with me once. That was scary. I had lots of falls, and I would get thrown off or stepped on, but I never had any broken bones. We would ride four or five miles, going to Wanker’s Corner or George’s Store where McDonald’s is now located. We would ride there and buy candy.”
Craig earned money for college by raising and selling grand champion steers, and he and his brother also had a hay-hauling business.
“Minimum wage was $2.50 an hour, but we paid our workers $7.50 an hour and made $50 a day, which was good money in those days,” Craig said.
Craig went to Tigard High School, and because it wasn’t cool to be a farmer, “I didn’t tell anyone,” he said. “I was small for my age and tried to navigate the hallways without drawing attention to myself.”
After graduating from THS, Craig first went to Clackamas Community College because he wanted to be a wrestler, and the school had a wrestling program. He later switched to OSU to major in (what else?) agriculture, and after graduating from OSU, he taught agriculture at Silverton and Sherwood high schools before devoting himself full time to farming.
When the Oregon Department of Transportation was constructing I-205 in the 1960s, it purchased 40 acres of the 70-acre Lee property, and Craig’s parents later purchased 40 acres on 65th Avenue, where the present-day 122-acre farm, which includes 100 rented acres, is located.
After Craig’s parents divorced, he later bought his mom’s half of the property.
Craig and his dad started raising Christmas trees together in 1975, while his dad also had several hundred head of cattle.
“Larry scaled down to 50 head of cattle recently,” Craig said.
Over the decades, the crops changed, ranging from hay to pumpkins to strawberries to sunflowers.
“When my parents first bought the property on 65th, it was mostly pasture for cattle with two or three acres in strawberries,” he said. “They sort of stumbled into growing strawberries as they grew more and cut back on the pasture land. A lot of the growers wouldn’t allow the public to pick strawberries until after they had paid workers to pick berries for the canneries.
“We would charge 10 cents more per pound than the canneries paid and didn’t have any labor costs. We would have four to five lines of people waiting to get their strawberries weighed. It was much more profitable than selling to the canneries. It worked out really great. We now also grow raspberries and marionberries.”
Craig credits his five children for making the whole operation work. His daughter, Erika, owns Red Berry Barn south of Sherwood, and “Teagan and Kara manage the farm for me, and this is Annie’s store and business and bakery,” he said. “My son Tommy is at OSU.
“Annie does the marketing for her market store, and all the kids are responsible together and doubled the business and farm marketing. If it weren’t for my kids, this business would be 10 percent of what it currently is. At one point, I wanted everybody to do everything together, but each one found their own niche.
“Teagan and Kara started the sunflower business and grow 50 different varieties of sunflowers and make a sunflower maze for the public to go through. Visitors post photos on social media, and that increases our business.”
The newest craze is pumpkins, with the farm growing 30 different varieties on 30 acres. Craig also shared his favorite pumpkin pie recipe: Blend three kinds of pumpkin with lots of sugar.
“Some pumpkins break open in the field,” he said. “You can eat them raw and some are so sweet, they taste like apples. I say that people are like pumpkins: Some go bad, and also they come in different shapes and colors.”
Lee Farms also has become known for seasonal activities.
At the end of summer, “we have 800 cars at a time,” Craig said. “We make 10 times selling pumpkins over what we made selling Christmas trees. And we have all the fun fall events like a corn maze and a hay maze and hay rides. We call it farm entertainment, and it’s like a carnival. We run 10,000 school kids through here, where eight different stations are set up.”
“I want to stay in the background,” Craig said. “I’m good at driving tractors, and I like doing it. I own 19 tractors, and I think if I bought another one, they would do an intervention. Three of the tractors are new ones, but I like the older stuff. The old ones run circles around the new ones any day. I can put up 100 1,200-pound bales of hay a day. I also do custom hay work putting up other people’s hay by cutting, raking and baling it.”
Growing up on a farm, “you learn a work ethic and responsibility, and my parents were the hardest working people I know,” Craig said. “But farming has sure changed with the times, and we survived by changing with it.”
Craig has 11 grandchildren, and some of them were running around the store as he talked.
“I usually see most them every day,” he said. “All the grandkids are interested in farming, and they are the best part of my life.”
Craig has rarely strayed far from the farm, but he has a big adventure coming up this summer. After riding dirt bikes for years, Craig recently bought his first motorcycle, and he and a friend are planning a road trip through Canada to the Arctic Ocean, Earth’s northernmost body of water that encircles the Arctic and flows beneath it.
“We want to put our feet in the ocean,” Craig said.
After that he will no doubt be anxious to get back to the farm.