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March 28, 2020

Tri-county dairy farms showcased in new exhibit

WATSONVILLE—A new exhibit at the Agricultural History Project (AHP) has been set up to give visitors a glimpse into the dairy industry in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.

Dozens of early-day milk bottles make up the bulk of the display, but numerous butter churns, capping machines, wires carrying trays, cream separators and more flesh out the exhibit inside the Codiga Center and Museum at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.

“The exhibit spans roughly from the late 1800s up to around 1960,” said John Kegebein, CEO of AHP. “At one point there were 152 dairy farms in Santa Cruz County, 198 in Monterey County and many more in San Benito County: There was a major dairy industry in this area for quite some time.”

Now, those dairies have largely vanished and glass bottles and all the tools of the trade have gone with them. The cardboard milk carton is one reason, Kegebein said.

“I remember milk bottles arriving on our porch in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s,” he said. 

Dozens of early-day milk bottles are now part an exhibit at the Agricultural History Project at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Kegebein said Elkhorn Dairy and Meadow Gold were big names in the Watsonville Area.

“Meadow Gold would take milk in from farmers and process it,” he said. “They had a business right there on Main Street near East Lake Avenue. The Mello family also ran a dairy, I believe out of Soquel.” 

To the north of Santa Cruz was Wilder Ranch, who would make butter and cream and ship it to San Francisco. 

“Part of our mission to preserve the history of agriculture in our region,” Kegebein said. “Now, all our milk comes from Petaluma or out in the San Joaquin Valley; we’ve seen so many changes and it’s important to try to preserve our past.”

The exhibit is largely in place, however Kegebein added that signage, in English and Spanish, is still in the works.