Hunt & Behrens Inc. Stands Tall in Petaluma Following a Century of Change

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: November 17, 2021

For 100 years, Hunt & Behrens Inc. has carefully crafted feed rations for the cows and chickens producing the butter and eggs that have played an enduring role in Petaluma’s history, culture and economy.

Hunt & Behrens’ century-old logo, a basket of eggs, says it all.

Through wars and the Great Depression, booms and busts, a pandemic, wildfires and earthquakes, Hunt & Behrens has kept its mills humming and trucks rolling to deliver the hay and grains that support the family ranches north and south, east and west of Petaluma.

Hunt & Behrens’ century in business is intricately woven into the history of Petaluma, the historic river town once recognized as the Egg Basket of the World and America’s Chicken City. It’s an image Petaluma steadfastly embraces even as it has become more urban in the wake of the explosive growth since the 1950’s when hay fields and chicken farms made way for housing subdivisions and shopping centers.

Through it all, the picturesque grain elevators at Hunt & Behrens continue to operate, providing feed for the cows, chickens, ducks and other poultry and livestock that make Sonoma-Marin a premiere food region in California. As a vital agricultural support industry, Hunt & Behrens is helping sustain an economy and way-of-life essential to Petaluma’s identify.

“The success of this 100-year-old business is a testament to Petaluma’s agricultural importance past and present. The Hunt & Behrens plant itself is a significant historical landmark and contributes to the unique architectural character of Petaluma,” said Katherine J. Rinehart, a historian based in Petaluma who has written extensively about the city’s history, heritage and architecture.

 

When Hunt & Behrens was founded in 1921 along the banks of the Petaluma River, there were thousands of small family farms in and around Petaluma producing the eggs and milk that helped feed a growing nation. It was the Golden Age in agriculture, a time when Sonoma County led the nation in the production of eggs, poultry, milk and livestock.

Life and times have dramatically changed but, still, poultry, dairy and livestock are vitally important sectors of the farm economy in Sonoma and Marin counties.  In 2020, the value of milk, meat and poultry in the two North Bay counties totaled more than $300 million.

“There have been many changes in agriculture over the last century but Hunt & Behrens has adapted and changed right along with it,” said Dan Figone, who along with Robert Falco Jr. and Joe Masciorini Jr. are the current owners of Hunt & Behrens, which was founded by Marvin L. Hunt and Carl N. Behrens.

Figone and Falco said one of the company’s most consequential decisions was in 2000 when Hunt & Behrens made the move to organic feed production, offering the organic option – along with conventional feed. Organic feed now accounts for a majority of sales.

Figone, Falco and Masciorini all have family ties to owners who worked at Hunt & Behrens, shaping the company into a leading and respected purveyor of hay and grain for the North Coast livestock, dairy and poultry industries. All three men have worked at the company since 1972, working their way from employees to co-owners.  Figone, the nephew of former co-owner, the late Joe DeCarli, started as a floor sweeper.

“It was a summer job and I am still here nearly 50 years later,” said Figone.

Today’s owners have the utmost respect for the late Ed Behrens, the son of founder Carl Behrens, who ran the company for a half century, instilling the values that are at the company’s core. The owners say their mission statement, embodied by Ed Behrens, is simple and straightforward: dedication to customer service and efficiency in producing quality feed at the lowest price possible.

It’s a business formula that has worked very well over the decades, with some ranching families being Hunt & Behrens’ valued customers for four generations.

Ranching is a 24-7 business, said Figone, and so is Hunt & Behrens. “If someone runs out of a feed on a Saturday or Sunday, they give us a call and someone will come into the mill to get the feed order out.”

The Carinalli family, which has been ranching for four generations, has been buying hay and grain from Hunt & Behrens since 1924. The family is recognized as the company’s oldest continuing customer.

“Hunt & Behrens is the only company that we have ever bought hay and grain from,” said Sebastopol dairy rancher Domenic Carinalli Jr. “Hunt & Behrens is very competitive in its pricing and has always kept their customers’ needs at heart.”

Like many of the Hunt & Behrens customers, the Carinallis are like part of the company’s family. The trust and respect go both ways.

“We treat our customers the way we would like to be treated,” said Falco, whose father Robert and uncle Pete Falco were longtime employees and then co-owners of Hunt & Behrens.

The Falco brothers who grew up on a family farm in Santa Rosa were well versed in dairy and poultry ranching. They built Hunt & Behrens’ dairy business when the chicken farms began to decline in the 1950’s due to the consolidation of the poultry industry.  The Falco brothers visited the hundreds of dairy farms in Sonoma and Marin countries, forging the solid relationships the company still has with many longtime dairy ranching families.

Along with their customers, the Hunt & Behrens’ owners have the highest regard and admiration for their 38 employees, whom they recognize as the backbone of the company.  Falco and Figone say that the three-member office staff – Helen Jacobsen, Marilyn Elbeck and Heather Pavey – keep the business running like clockwork, focusing on details for orders and billing while treating customers with unfailing courtesy and respect.

“It’s a team effort,” said Falco, who works with Figone to manage the overall business including financing, commodities procurement and strategic planning. Masciorini, a mechanically-minded guy, operates all aspects of the mill, overseeing a complex system of conveyers and elevators, plus a fleet of bulk trucks, to get grain and hay to ranches from Ferndale to Point Reyes Station.

Other key members of the team are Joe Moreda, the company’s feed salesman and hay broker who started as a driver 35 years ago; John Martin, the nutritionist and manager of the Hunt & Behrens retail store, and Fran Nunes, who supervises the mill and oversees the truck drivers.

Most of the employees have been there for years with no intentions of leaving.

“When you find a good place to land, you don’t leave,” said Mary Vieira who has worked at Hunt & Behrens for 18 years in the company’s retail store.

Vieira oversees the retail store’s VSI section that offers vaccines and veterinary pharmaceuticals for a variety of animals. The retail store, serving small-scale farmers and pet owners, offers sacked feeds, hay, animal supplies, pet foods and over-the-counter medicines.

Hunt & Behrens, a premium member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, believes in giving back to the community, always donating to events, supporting 4-H and FFA programs and buying animals at the Sonoma County Fair.

Since its beginnings 100 years ago, Hunt & Behrens has focused on customer service and the needs of farmers and ranchers. The company traces its history to September 1921 when Mr. Hunt and Mr. Behrens, who learned the feed business while working for Petaluma kingpin George P. McNear, opened their first mill on First and C streets. It was along the Petaluma River where barges from San Francisco made their turnaround to bring butter, milk, eggs and potatoes back to the city.

The 1920’s was a time of great change and innovation in agriculture including formula feeding as a way to improve animal nutrition and productivity. Hunt & Behrens prospered because of the quality of its products, expanding its reach while other feed mills closed their doors.

Just before World War II, construction began on a new mill at 30 Lakeville Street. The mill was completed shortly after the war and has been Hunt & Behrens’ home ever since, with various expansions and improvements over the decades to better accommodate customers. The spacious facility allowed the company to initiate innovations like the first bulk delivery of mixed grains.

Another big change occurred in 1947 when Marvin Hunt sold his half interest to partner Carl Behrens, who brought his son Ed in as a partner. Ed Behrens, who earned a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, was a man of brilliance, integrity and influence who guided the company through many challenges during periods of profound change.

In the years following the war, Hunt & Behrens’ business grew and took on new employees, eight of whom would become owners.  They were Joe DeCarli, Bob and Pete Falco, Bill DeMorales, John Rollage, Joe Masciorini, Al Bonomi and Ben Barri.

While always incorporating more efficient methods for feed production and delivery, Hunt & Behrens groomed new owners when older ones were ready to retire. It has ensured the continuity and integrity of the company, keeping it a family business at heart.

Today, Figone, Falco and Masciorini are committed to the values and principles of the previous owners, meeting the daily challenges of their demanding managerial roles while valuing the customers and employees who make it all possible.

 

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