The path Marlene Silveira and her family took to fulfill their dream of owning family dairies in California was a long one.
“I was born into the family dairies business,” she said. “My family still has dairies in the Azores Islands (off the coast of Portugal), where I was born. As far back as I can go, my family has always milked cows.”
In 1999, she married Victor, whose parents also came from the Azores and had started a California dairy in 1987.
At first, Marlene and Victor leased a dairy farm. Then in 2001, another dream came true — the couple bought a dairy between Sacramento and Redding, Calif.
“In 2006 we reached a new chapter for Silveira Farms and became an organic dairy,” she said. “We wanted to get the cows on pasture and off of concrete. We went back to the way our family dairies in the Azores.”
The dairy milks around 600 cows. Most are Holsteins but there are a few Jerseys and cross-breeds.
A couple of years ago they also decided to plant trees and now have almond and walnut orchards.
The Silveiras sell their milk to Organic West, a milk broker that sells it to processors.
“I always say that you are born into the family dairies business or you marry into it,” she said. “It is truly a 7/24-hour job and most people do not want this lifestyle. But most dairymen will tell you that this is the most rewarding job and we would not trade it for the world. I personally cannot imagine not milking cows.”
Although it is an ideal life for her family, she acknowledges there are bumps in the road.
“There are many challenges for a dairy farmer in California,” she said. “The milk price the California dairy farmer receives is about 10 percent lower than the rest of the nation. The reason is that California is not in the federal order.”
She hopes that will change next year, when farmers will vote on a federal order.
“The operating costs — land, labor, electricity, feed costs and fuel in California are also high,” she said. “These are some of the reasons many dairies are going out of business or moving out of state.”
She also thought about moving.
“There was a time we also considered moving out of California for these reasons, but we love California,” he said. “This is where family lives and where we want to raise our two kids.”
Silveira is a member of the California Milk Advisory Board.