Don’t Go, Dairies!

The dairy industry in Southern California is in sad shape, I am afraid to say. I went to Corona to do a bit of investigating this past week, twice actually. What I was there to discover was not clear to me at first, but as I asked questions and saw the sad state of the dairy industry in this area, I found an unfortunate story.

Providence’s cross country coach, Keri Whitaker, has a brother in law, Mark Vanderhusen, who owns a dairy in Corona. He just recently began moving his current dairy from its current 80+ acre Corona location, to Fort Collins, Colorado. There is a dam not twenty miles from his dairy that keeps flood waters out of Orange County. However if the dam were to overflow, his dairy would become swampland, and he might have to start raising gators. But truly, his land is being taken by Orange County as part of the flood basin.

But the Vanderhusen dairy isn’t the only one leaving the valley. I talked with John, a former dairy owner himself, who is now managing Vanderhusen’s dairy while the owner is scouting out land in Fort Collins. He said that at its peak, Southern California was the dairy capital of the U.S., with over 400 dairies. Now there are 70 or less, and the numbers are dwindling fast. Overbearing environmental laws, economic pressures and cheap land elsewhere are driving dairies from SoCal in a cattle cart and dropping them far away from here. Expanding residential and business areas have driven up the value of the land the dairies sit on, so farmers will make more money selling their land than continuing to milk. Regulations on water distribution has driven up the cost of feed, and environmental organizations keep a close eye on these dairies, looking for any way to accuse them.

As I drove around with Coach Keri’s husband, Mark Whitaker, he told me about the way things used to be when he and his family first moved there twelve years ago. He told me that the two families used to sit and watch the sunset from his tailgate. He and Vanderhusen would enjoy a couple beers while the kids would play. He said you could look out over the valley and you would never know you were just a short drive from the second largest city in the U.S. Now housing developments are backed right up to the dairy. Whitaker showed me huge business parks where cows used to roam. We drove along Euclid Avenue and in the middle of all these industrial parks sits a house. The owners sold their dairy but wanted to stay in their house. Sadly many dairies are deserted and just sitting around waiting to be turned into golf course, or an office building complex. While they wait for their new fate, they are often broken into and stripped of valuables, aluminum, steel and copper.

This problem is close to Providence’s heart. Many Providence students come from dairies themselves, in Canada, Michigan, Missouri, Idaho and California, and all Providence students benefit from the dairy business, since Providence is supported by dairy farmers from across the U.S. They played an integral part in Providence’s creation and continue to sustain us through donations now.

Pretty soon the valley will be vacant of dairies, and even the ones who are sticking it out will probably sell their land eventually or move elsewhere. Chino has already set aside one working dairy to remain in the valley, to be a reminder of the dairies that used to be and to show future generations what the land was used for.

So say “so long” because the cows are leaving town. They’re going north, they’re going east, but they’re not staying here. Unfortunately, dairy farming in SoCal is coming to an end.