Portuguese Dairy Success

Portuguese have dominated the California dairy industry since its inception.

Years:  1916 — 2009

Agriculture is dominant in the Azores Islands, homeland of 90% of the Portuguese immigrants to America. Therefore, farming was their major activity in the Santa Clara Valley. Many got their starts as tenant farmers. On a tenant farm, the landowners fenced the land, opened springs, built houses, barns, corrals and other outbuildings, and supplied the cows. The tenant was expected to supply furniture, utensils, and farm tools as well as labor. Portuguese saved their money, purchased land, and began their own dairies.

About twenty families had dairies on Lawrence Station Road in Santa Clara. Other dairies were located on Brokaw Road and in Agnew, Alviso, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Los Gatos, and surrounding communities. Mary Nascimento Simas recalls the horse cart that collected the milk cans from her father’s dairy and took them to the train station to ship to San Francisco creameries for distribution. Once a month, the dairymen would travel to San Francisco to collect their earnings.

In 1916, the Portuguese dairymen banded together to form the Milk Producers Association of San Francisco to obtain a better price for their milk. Also in 1916, Manuel Azevedo founded the American Dairy Company with a retail outlet at 17th and East Santa Clara Streets.

With major commercial and residential development of Santa Clara Valley after World War II, agriculture began to leave for the Central Valley where most of California’s huge dairy industry is now located. Though not in California, one of the largest Portuguese-owned dairies in the world is located in Idaho. This dairy is owned by Portuguese-American Luis Bettencourt. At the time of this article, Luis was milking over 35,000 cows, with 20,000 heifers. He owns over 12,000 acres, of which he is farming 8,000 in corn and alfalfa. The business currently employs more than 250 people and growing

For the entire history of California–since 1850–Portuguese-Americans have dominated the dairy industry. When you enjoy an ice cream cone, thank the Portuguese dairymen!

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