Dairy closing brings end to a tradition

August 2, 2014 • Editorial, Opinion

THOWSAREMUGWith the start of the school year, students attending schools in the Dairy Capital of the Southwest, our fair city of Roswell, will no longer be supplied with fresh milk from a local dairy.

Students from Dexter, Hagerman, Artesia, Carlsbad, Lake Arthur, Capitan, Hondo and New Mexico Military Institute also will not get fresh milk from Nature’s Dairy, which had supplied milk to area schools for 35 years.

On Thursday, that 35-year tradition ended when Nature’s Dairy closed its production line, leaving 24 employees without jobs.

The dairy itself will remain open. It is just the milk bottling and processing portion of the operation that has closed.

The start of the business 35 years ago in Roswell is a classic tale of American entrepreneurship.

Two ex-college roommates and best friends, Gerald Greathouse and Jeff Sapp, bought the dairy business from Pollard Dairy and over the years, expanded it from a classic farm-to-enterprise with 100 cows to a $1.8 million operation with 55 employees.

But like many smaller, family-owned businesses, Nature’s Dairy had to contend with larger competitors constantly honing in on its market share.

The last straw, apparently, was when Farmers Country Market recently decided to sell its own private label, Shurfine, instead of products from Nature’s Dairy.

Roswell native Tim Jennings, who served for many years in the New Mexico [auth] Senate, described both Sapp and Greathouse as outstanding men.

“I have known both of them for many years,” he said. “I know Jerry and his wife and kids are the same age as mine. Both families are active in the community.”

The processing half of the business was operated by Sapp while the dairy was run by Greathouse.

Pearl Cruz, an employee whose job ended this week, said she and the other workers who are now out of work have no hard feelings toward Sapp, because they know he did everything he could to keep the operation going.

The closing of Nature’s Dairy this week brought back some memories for me because, when I was a kid, my grandparents had fresh milk delivered by a local dairy.

I remember the milkman would place quart-size glass bottles in a metal cube that was maybe 18-square inches on each side. It had a lid that flapped open.

The fresh milk would be delivered in the cube in the wee hours of the morning, and when the bottles were empty my grandparents would place them in the cube for the milkman to pick up. I remember the logo of the dairy was proudly displayed on the four visible sides of the cube.

I’m not sure if this was how milk was delivered in Roswell, but I’m guessing many who are reading this, like me, can still remember when milk was delivered to your doorstep and not bought at the grocery store.

We didn’t have local delivery where I grew up in Porter County, Ind., a mostly rural area 50 miles east of Chicago, but there was a large dairy farm called Sunset Hill Farm about a mile from our house.

The farm had a quaint, wooden fence on each side of its entry with a long driveway that wound up a hill for about a quarter of a mile to a large, stately residence on a hillside. Along the way were little cottages where the farmhands lived, barns and the dairy’s small retail store, where gallon jugs of fresh milk were sold directly to customers.

The glass jugs had a metal ring around the top attached to a metal handle. Pressed onto the top of each gallon of milk as a lid was a waxy piece of thick paper with the Sunset Hill Farm logo. One time, I dropped one of the jugs and got a nasty cut when I tried to pick up the pieces.

I remember there was always three or four inches of cream at the top that my mother would either mix into the milk by shaking the jug or scrape off to use in a recipe.

But the fondest memory of all was watching through a glass window the cows get milked by the mechanic milking machines.

A dairy worker would herd about 10 or 12 cows into corrals with swinging metal gates. Their udders practically drooped to the floor from the weight of the milk. The dairy worker would then attach the milking machine’s long, black suction cups to each cow’s teats and the milking would begin. It seemed like it took around four or five minutes to milk each cadre of cows.

This was a big thrill for my sister and I when we were little, and we would always beg our mom to buy milk at the farm when we knew the cows were going to get milked. I could be wrong, but I think the farm had a park bench in front of the window so customers could watch the cows getting milked.

Childhood memories are meant to be cherished.

Though a 35-year tradition ended this week, adults can still keep alive memories of home milk delivery while area children can hold onto the memory of what it was like to get fresh milk from a local dairy instead of the “store bought” kind you can any where else in America.

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