Making It Work: Dairy farmer says she has ‘big dreams’ for future


Issue Date: October 24, 2018
By Ching Lee
Dairy farmer Vanessa Alexandre, whose family operates organic dairies in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, says she and her family members each bring their own specialties to the farm but have a “shared vision” of where they’re going.
Photo/Jay Watson
The Alexandre family, from left, includes Callie, Christian, Vanessa, Joseph, Alexa, Blake, Stephanie, Dalton and Savanna.
Photo/Callie Alexandre
Dave Simpson, a director of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, left, and Tera Clark, granddaughter of vineyard owner Al Costa, check on a pilot project to recharge groundwater beneath the vineyard.
Christine Souza

(Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part Ag Alert® series about different paths young farmers and ranchers take as they build their agricultural careers.)

Considering her rural upbringing in Del Norte County, with farm life at the center of her work and play, it may come as no surprise that Vanessa Alexandre ended up back on the family farm doing what she's known her whole life.

These days, she and her four siblings—Joseph, Christian, Dalton and Savanna—help run different aspects of the family's organic dairy and farm alongside their parents "with a shared vision of where we're going," Alexandre said.

"Growing up right across the street from our dairy farm, we fell in love with it because it was life for us," she said. "There wasn't anything else around us but what we were working on with the cows and chickens and other critters."

She credits her parents, Blake and Stephanie Alexandre, for the love that she and her siblings now have for agriculture, the land and their animals, adding, "It's no accident that we all came back to the farm."

As the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and a younger sister, Alexandre said she's the one with "the biggest passion for the cows." She now works primarily on the dairy and in the marketing of the Alexandre Family Farm brand, which has its own line of organic milk and yogurt, pastured eggs, grass-fed beef and pastured pork.

Like her parents, Alexandre graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, with degrees in agricultural business and dairy science. Her siblings also went to Cal Poly studying agriculture, with the youngest currently completing her degree.

Her parents bought their dairy in Crescent City in 1992; the dairy began its conversion to organic in 1999.

"My parents were the first dairy in Northern California to go organic and to start that wave of movement for dairy farmers in the area," Alexandre said.

Even as youngsters, Alexandre said she and her siblings attended numerous conferences and grazing seminars "just learning and seeking out what farmers were doing elsewhere, trying to find something that would make the dairy an option for us kids to return home to—something to make the farm more viable, sustainable and profitable."

Alexandre said her parents' decision to become organic speaks to how they were always looking to "stay ahead of the curve in the marketplace." She remembers how she was one of only a couple of organic farmers in her college agriculture class.

"It was definitely different," she said, "but we weren't afraid to be different either. We knew being different would help us stand out in the marketplace."

The family now operates four separate organic dairies in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. They also grow the majority of their own hay in Modoc County. Alexandre Kids LLC, founded by her brothers Joseph and Christian, sells organic, pastured eggs and pork.

Each of the siblings has their own specialty and area of expertise on the farm: Joseph, the oldest, is the financial analyst and manages the two Humboldt County dairies. Christian, the second oldest, manages the egg business and the farm's summer harvest crew and irrigation crew on the dairies. Vanessa's younger brother Dalton, who has an agricultural engineering degree, is the farm's information technology specialist. Savanna, the youngest, though still in college, is the lead equipment operator on the farm.

Two of her brothers' wives also have taken roles on the farm. Joseph's wife Alexa, a high school agriculture teacher, runs the books for the family milk brand, and Christian's wife Callie, a photographer, helps in the office of the main dairy.

"We constantly have to regroup as a family with all the siblings and parents and spouses to talk about our goals and where we want to go, because we do have some big dreams within the dairy industry," Alexandre said.

Now that they're selling their own brand of milk, one of those dreams is to grow that brand, she said, though she noted the family remains diverse in their contracts of where they ship their milk.

"We always had a dream of having our own milk in the market, so we definitely want to grow our brand because that's our family name and that's what we'd like to give the consumer," she said. "We know that everything in that bottle came from our farm and we're proud of every cow, every ounce in that bottle."

Long term, she said she would love to improve efficiency at the dairies, which have older milking parlors. Remodeling those systems would reduce costs on the farm, she said. The family would also like to build a creamery on the North Coast so that they could process their own milk more locally. Currently, their creamery is in the East Bay, where many of their customers are. Another reason for wanting a more-local creamery, she said, is to expand the family's agritourism business, do more farm tours and have a farm store.

"We do get tourists quite often up here, so it'd be fun to have our milk processing in the area as well," she said.

She describes her experience with the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program as being "like a college reunion," noting how much she enjoys going to conferences, learning and interacting with peers her own age who can relate to each other's experiences working in agriculture.

"It's always fun to know someone in a town that you stop in often and go see other people's farms that are any type of ag commodity," she said. "It's always fun to know people in the state."

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.