News from the Farm | November 28, 2022

Grandpa Joe hands out fresh milk to a happy customer at Story Road Drive-in Dairy

Good day to you all,

A warm north wind flowed down through the valley this Thanksgiving. As a river flows between its banks, the wind wandered between mountain ranges that cradle the land we care for. Trees now shimmer orange and undo their summer leaves, helped by the wind’s gentle fingers. An early frost painted the valley with the most spectacular fall colors I can remember. Deep amber, burnt orange, sweet reds and yellows all aglow. A serene exhale. A wave, goodbye for now, and in a mere blink of an eye, the whole landscape seems to be drifting off under winter’s spell. Early rains, of whose moisture ran deep into the soil, now bear their gift: a green glimmer beneath the gray foothills and pastures. Those rains washed away the dust and whispered songs of hope to all farms across the West. As we long for more, we must give thanks for the opening remarks they’ve given on behalf of this rainy season. It wasn’t just the dust they washed away, but the urgency of summer. Immediately following the first rain and cold of the year, there is a palpable heave felt for miles. A pressure valve released. We have time! Time to release our own leaves; successes, failures, milestones…memories. Winter’s gift to us farmers is this time, and the patience to digest and put to rest all of the leaves.

One Sunday in September when the sky opened up and jubilantly cast down our first heavy rain, she also took with her my Grandpa. It is a day I will never forget. Grandpa knew, nine days after his 99th birthday, that his spirit could no longer walk with his body on earth. One by one, he invited us all to join him in his bedroom, let his legendary hands engulf each of ours for the last time and share our love with his clearest being of self. What unbelievable strength he had, especially in his last hours. He told me to be strong as I held back my tears. What an incredible mind he had. Sharing stories and laughs with each of us as we grieved his nearing departure. And then it seemed he conjured the rain. A blessed rain. A farmer’s wish. Seeds that are sown and take root within this dirt bear no life without such a miracle. He kept saying, “And there will be more, there will be more.” What peace he must have felt to relinquish himself gracefully back into her life-giving arms.

Most would say he was the strongest man they’d ever met. An admirable father, a devoted husband. A gentle and kind grandfather. A true believer in selfless love. Thanking his cows after every milking. Such an inspiration on how to live and how to leave the world. The biggest inspiration in my life.

His story is one worth sharing and honoring. The following is his obituary that was written by his children:

Joseph Frank Muller passed away as he lived his life, gently and peacefully, on September 19, 2022, spending his final hours surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  He lived life fully for 99 years, an example of kindness and generosity, always taking a warm-hearted interest in others. 

Joe was born on September 9, 1923 in Altdorf, Switzerland.  As the third of nine children, he grew up working on his family’s small farm, milking cows, and herding animals high into the Alps where he spent his summers making cheese.  

In 1947, his independent spirit inspired him to leave Switzerland and move to California, where he found a job milking cows in Chino.  There he spent more than 20 hours each day, feeding, milking and managing 75 cows, earning double pay because his boss said he did the work of two men.  After working himself sick, his doctor suggested he leave the dairy business, so he moved from there to the redwoods of Northern California where he worked as a lumberjack.  He took language classes at night and soon became fluent in English.  Several years later, he left the redwoods to follow his dream of owning a dairy of his own.  He made his way to Soledad, eventually becoming a partner in an existing dairy business.  It was during these years that he met the love of his life, Marie Bleisch, while visiting her parents in Mountain View.  They married not long after, and Marie joined him in building not only a thriving business, but a large and lively family.

Eventually, Joe and Marie moved to San Jose as founders of Story Road Drive-in Dairy, selling milk and ice cream made directly from the cows he was so proud of.  Joe shared his happy memories of those early years on Story Road for the remainder of his life.

In 1967, Joe and Marie moved their six children to Woodland, CA, where he began Joe Muller and Sons, a diverse farming enterprise raising row crops with his five sons.  Many joyful and industrious years were spent growing the agricultural business with his family.  

Joe was an active member of Holy Rosary Catholic Church and a man of deep faith.  He served as Commissioner of the Yolo Fire Department for 37 years, acquired and distributed food for St. Vincent de Paul Society, and was a member of the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club and the Sacramento Helvetia Verein.  Joe loved life, especially Swiss dancing, fishing, talking farming, and enjoying conversations with friends and family.  He had a masterful memory and was a wonderful storyteller.  He was curious and interested in others, and always enjoyed sharing stories around the kitchen table.

Joe will be greatly missed by his family and friends. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Marie, and six brothers in Switzerland. He leaves behind his brother Leo, his sister Ana, and six children:  Joe (Mary), Paul (Dru), Louie (Marie), Frank (Nancy), Tom (Shelley) and Marianne (Gio) as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lived a life of honesty, integrity, kindness, faith and gratitude, setting an example that continues to inspire us all.

I am eternally thankful for those who have come before me. With no path to guide them but the stars and good faith, they paved the roads beneath our feet.

Thank you, Beet Family, for supporting us through another year.

Rye Muller

*My aunt and uncle, Tom and Shelley Muller, have worked with Yolo Food Bank to establish the “Joseph Muller Sr. Memorial Fund”. This new fund was created to honor the life and legacy of Joe and supports our new “Yolo Gives & Gathers” campaign which advances food security by supporting our community’s ability to gather safely and break bread this holiday season.