One of the things I enjoy most about the Sacramento Valley is that things are mostly intact from years back. The small towns and family farms are much the same as they were a long time ago.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t any changes, however. For example, there are fewer kiwifruit vineyards and more orchards in the North State. There are also fewer dairies.
I was reminded of our region’s dairy history while on a beautiful stretch of the countryside near Gridley. This old dairy silo owned by M.J. Justeson hasn’t been in operation for a half century. It’s a reminder of what once was in our area.
Local historian Rian Farley kindly provided some history of dairies in the Durham area of Butte County. The story goes that in 1910s Carnation Milk used to have 27 separate pickups from dairies along a six-mile stretch. In those days, the largest of the local dairies would have about 40 cows and the daily haul might be just a few cans of milk. The last dairy farming along that particular stretch of road in that region was in the 1930s. There is still one operating dairy to the west side of Durham, as well as a herd of cows at CSU, Chico’s farm.
There are currently more than 80 dairies in the Sacramento Valley, according to Betsy Karle, UC Dairy Advisor for the Northern Sacramento Valley. Some have found the niche of producing farmstead cheese from modern milking methods where cows are five times more productive than earlier generations.
“Several small dairies are still thriving in our valley, thanks to the local food movement and consumer demand for farmstead dairy products,” Karle said. “Consumers need not travel far to find specialty dairy products produced right here in the Sacramento Valley.”
As a fan of the wonderful suite of bovine-based foods, I for one am happy that we have fresh, local, award-winning cheese, butter and yogurt.