Photo by Rachel LaFranchi
Throughout Sonoma County, the name Groverman is synonymous with a veterinarian who has dedicated his life to the county’s agricultural community. Dr. Fred Groverman, 83, has spent a lifetime as a beloved large and small animal veterinarian but also as a shepherd of his Shropshire flock which he raises on a 50 acre farm that’s been in his family since the early 1900’s.
Groverman’s grandfather emigrated from Germany in the 1800’s and lived in San Francisco before the family relocated to Petaluma. They lived off Liberty Road for a few years before moving to Corona Road in 1908, directly across from what would become the family’s ranch over the next few years. The Grovermans then moved onto their current property which they rented for a couple of years before buying in the 1910’s. The family paid off the property in the 1940’s.
Like most farms that have been in the family for 100 years, Groverman’s family ranch has changed and evolved over time.
In the early part of the 1900’s, the family had more than 8,000 chickens. The chickens lived in colony houses which the Grovemans described as free range, a term not used at the time. Groverman’s father, Bernard, primarily sold eggs and hatching eggs.
While raising the chickens, the family of four (Bernard and his wife Ida, who was from the Petersen farming family in Roblar, had two children: Fred and his older sister Elsa) stayed diversified also raising veal, hay, horses, chickens for meat, milk cows and growing vegetables.
Groverman started milking the family’s three to five dairy cows at nine years old, and continued to milk by hand for another nine years. The family sold cream to the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery.
In the 1940’s, the family transitioned from raising chickens to turkeys for meat production. The family usually kept around 1,250 turkeys, but Groverman remembers the turkeys peaking at more than 2,500 at one point in time.
Rewind a decade to 1934 when Groverman was only six months old and his father made a decision that would shape the rest of his life. Bernard Groverman purchased a handful of Shropshire sheep, a wooly meat breed of sheep developed in England.
Fred Groverman is still raising Shropshires, and has a flock of more than 150 sheep. He said he has the oldest production flock in the world. He has gained national recognition for his herd, culminating in a prestigious 2011 invitation to judge the National Shropshire Show in the U.K.
Over the years, Groverman has worked hard to maintain the purebred status of his flock, and in 1992 he stopped buying outside rams and only using rams bred on the farm with two exceptions: he imported semen in 2002 from New Zealand and in 2008 from the U.K.
In 1951, three weeks after Groverman had started his first semester at UC Davis, Bernard Groverman passed away leaving the burden of the family ranch on Ida. Groverman came back from school and helped his mother take care of the ranch, selling all the turkeys and helping with lambing – a skill that would become very beneficial for his career.
Groverman went back to Davis the following year and got a place in the veterinary school with only two and a half years of pre-vet experience. Some of this he attributed to his exemplary work with the school’s sheep flock, but he admits that he was also lucky and fortunate. Groverman said everything just fell into place after that.
In 1958, Bill Kortum, who had graduated four years prior, asked Groverman to join his practice. They worked together to build a veterinary hospital in Cotati, quite literally helping build the building. The hospital continued to grow, and those who have heard of Groverman know his career continued to be a success for years to come.
As a successful vet, he also became a community fixture. He was a 4-H leader for more than 48 years and has served on the 4-H Foundation board since 1982; he was on the Sonoma County Fair Board for 10 years and involved as a vet for 30. He first became involved with Farm Bureau in the early 50’s when he served as a founding member of the Young Farmers and Ranchers and was inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame in 2006. He has received numerous awards over the years including two lifetime achievement awards for his work in agriculture from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. This is only the tip of Groverman’s involvement; a full list could form an entire article in its own right.
“Meanwhile,” said Groverman, “I was always taking care of the sheep.”
Pat, Groverman’s wife of 54 years, passed away in 2012. Groverman has since remarried, and his second wife Lynge, who had worked for Groverman in the 60’s, lives on the Petaluma property with him and shares in the daily tasks that come with raising sheep.
Lynge is entrenched in the history of the Groverman Family’s ranch, able to talk about the history of the property as if she’s lived there her whole life. “What amazes me,” said Lynge, “is that in the 40’s, the property was paid for, and the four person family was raising their own food and supporting themselves without an outside job.”
Together, the couple is working on what will become of the property in years to come.
They are positive that they want to land to stay in agriculture. They also have a dream that the property could be used to help educate the next generation about agriculture. They are exploring different options and seeking to partner with an organization that has similar ideas about how the property can benefit the community going forward.