ElseMarie Lund Petersen

I didn’t have to change when I came here. I think California allows you to be who you are.
— ElseMarie Lund Petersen
ElseMarie Lund Petersen, oil on canvas 18x24 by Holli Harmon

ElseMarie Lund Petersen, oil on canvas 18x24 by Holli Harmon

ElseMarie Petersen

ElseMarie came to Solvang as a tourist from Denmark in 1987. On that trip she met Aaron Petersen, who she married one year later. Aaron’s family has deep roots in the Santa Ynez Valley. Together they have raised four children there and have built several successful businesses, including Chomp and the Greenhouse Cafe. "We like to eat dinner together as a family but sometimes it's hard when you run two restaurants."

When their children were young, ElseMarie and Aaron made time for extended travel in Europe. They spent two months each in Denmark, France and Italy, and the children gained an appreciation for their own family history as well as for other cultures. They learned new languages and skills that have been useful in their lives and professions.

Growing up in Denmark, ElseMarie heard many stories about Solvang from her father who participated in a farm exchange program; he worked for two years on an Alamo Pintado property in the 1950s. They discovered her mother had relatives in Solvang when her family first visited Solvang together when she was a teenager.

Reflecting on the differences in life between Denmark and Solvang, she observes, “Denmark is a little more traditional. You always wish you could slow things down here. We had dinners that lasted until 1 or 2 a.m. Here, people leave at 9:30 or 10:30.” ElseMarie remembers long dinners and chatting with friends in the kitchen; after the dishes were done, conversations would continue over dessert long into the night.

In addition to working with her family's business, ElseMarie has recently become the manager of Copenhagen House. She is passionate about Danish design. "Danish architecture and designs are used all over the world." The Lego Group, Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chairs, and Louis Poulsen lighting designs are all examples of a Danish aesthetic that focuses on functional design and clean lines. This aesthetic was influenced by the Bauhaus school and extended to building design as well as furniture. Famous examples of Danish design in modern architecture are the Copenhagen Opera House and Sydney Opera House.

ElseMarie notes, "In Danish houses, the walls are often white; maybe this is because it is often dark or rainy outside. Danes have a fondness for hyggeligt; the translation to English is like coziness indoors." This is sometimes described as a feeling of conviviality, such as that found in fireside chats or over a shared meal. She observes that here in Solvang her family likes to spend time outdoors too. She is also a road cyclist and observes, "The Santa Ynez Valley is the most beautiful place," a sentiment echoed by all of our Portrait subjects that call the SYV home.

Thinking back to her first memories of Solvang in the seventies, she remembers, "There wasn't as much tourism.” Although most visitors come from southern California, Solvang is known around the world, and has over a million visitors each year. Many of the towns of the central coast depend on tourism as an industry. “Even though there's more traffic now we embrace tourism but we still have a small town feel. We have a lot of families here; people are involved in their children's lives. There is a nice sense of community.”

She shares pride in her adopted hometown of Solvang and the organizations that work to promote Danish culture in our region, such as the Danish Sisterhood. "I didn't have to change when I came here. I think California allows you to be who you are."

To experience Danish culture close to home, from learning about pioneers in the valley to sampling delectable baked goods, fine beers and savory meals to demonstrations of artisanal crafts, music and dance, visit Solvang during Danish Days, or anytime!


 By Katherine Bradford

Erik and Hans Gregersen

Solvang's Founding Family

“The Santa Ynez Valley is the best place to live; the people here are wonderful and the scenery is gorgeous.”  Hans Gregersen
Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42

Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42


Originally from Denmark, Jens Gregersen was one of Solvang’s founders. As a pastor, he helped to establish the town’s first Lutheran Church. Little did he know that his American grandsons would return to Denmark as children, travel the globe for work, and finally settle on the family ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

Brothers Erik and Hans Gregersen always knew that they would someday return to the valley. Having worked around the world, Hans reflects, “The Santa Ynez Valley is the best place to live; the people here are wonderful and the scenery is gorgeous.” 

Early life and careers

Their father was a petroleum geologist who was involved in the discovery of the Cuyama oil fields. Their mother was one of the first women to obtain a Ph.D. at Yale, and later worked as a librarian at the Huntington Library. Immediately after World War II ended, Gulf Oil was looking for a U.S. trained geologist to manage its oil and gas exploration program in Scandinavia. Their father was picked to do this job and they moved to Denmark in August, 1945. As schoolchildren in Denmark, Erik and Hans became fluent in Danish and enjoyed Danish holiday traditions, food and music. This was the beginning of their global perspective. Living in a country recovering from the ravages of WWII gave them a unique experience, not only to appreciate their American heritage but to continue to grow as universal citizens. After returning to the U.S. for high school and college, they each embarked on careers that took them abroad again. 

Erik studied engineering and business, earning an MBA from Harvard. He spent 15 years in various management assignments with  FMC Corporation, which specialized in commercial machinery related to the food and agricultural industries. He worked in the U.S., England, and South Africa. With this background, he and a friend from England started a produce labeling business after acquiring manufacturing and marketing rights to the patented labeling system that was invented in Ventura. “We had 85% of the market worldwide.” After a 30 year career in the food and agricultural machinery industry, he chose to return to the family ranch in 1997.


Younger brother, Hans, studied forestry, social sciences, and economics, earning a Ph.D. in Economics of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan. While still in graduate school, he began working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. As a professor at the University of Minnesota, he developed a program in international natural resources policy and continued lifelong work with the UN, the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and many other international groups. After early retirement from the Universityin 2000, he served on the Science Council and headed the impact assessment Unit of the World Bank-chaired Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).   “The CGIAR is a major entity that does agricultural and natural resources research to benefit the less developed countries and the poor around the world. It has centers all over the world.  I visited and worked with all of them, including centers in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and other countries. The centers have made and continue to make major contributions to global agriculture, food security and natural resources management and conservation.”  Erik and Hans exemplify what it means to be global citizens. “You learn how to deal with different kinds of people, with different languages, cultures and customs,” observes Hans. 

Reflections on the Santa Ynez Valley 

Changes in recent decades include growth of the wine industry and commercial development by the Chumash tribe. Hans reflects, “There were no vineyards in the early days; cattle ranches are less common now and the cost of land is high. Normal young people can’t afford to purchase land here anymore.” 

The Gregersen brothers retired from their highly successful careers and moved with their wives to Solvang where they enjoy their families and grandchildren who live both locally and farther afield. It is interesting to note that both of these men made their careers in agriculture and land management. These are the same motivators that brought a large group of immigrants from Denmark to the U.S. and eventually Solvang. Although their career paths deal with agriculture and land management at the international level, land is still a resource that plays a significant role in their lives today. Their respective industries (agriculture and land management) have new millennial challenges. The cost of land and availability of water threaten agriculture as development outpaces the economic return from growing food and availability of water.

Erik and Hans have a “world” of experience between them and continue to use their knowledge both in service of their immediate community and the global community. They are heavily involved with improving the quality of life locally and globally.  Today, Erik runs the ranch and is involved with non-profits, including the Elverhoj Museum, “I’m passionate about preserving the history of the Danish community.” He is also active with The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and the California Rangeland Trust. “Our grandparents had 2200 acres, cattle and also beans and barely. When they passed, there were too many heirs and taxes soour parents’ generation was forced to sell. If we had the ability [at that time] to put a conservation easement on it we could have kept it together. That’s what The Land Trust allows.”

Hans continues to work with various groups on deforestation and global forest policies, and is currently working on global forestry contributionsto the new UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. When asked about the challenges facing the Santa Ynez Valley, Hans reflects, “I feel people will adapt to the changes taking place. Hirschman’s principle of the ‘Hiding Hand’ applies here:  We tend to underestimate the emerging issues, but we also underestimate our ability to resolve the issues.  ”


By Katherine Bradford