The Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico is celebrating the dairy industry of Chaves County
By Christina Stock
The Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico (HSSENM) and its board of directors is hosting the 38th annual Heritage Dinner at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds’ commercial building, 2500 Southeast Main St. The event takes place Nov. 12 with a cocktail hour and the opening of a silent auction at 6 p.m. Live music is provided by Hot Club on the Pecos. At 7 p.m. dinner — catered by Peppers Grill & Bar — and the program begins.
This year, the society’s honoree is an entire industry with its families that have influenced the area since the late ‘70s: the dairy industry of Chaves County.
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“Every year, the board of directors votes on one individual or individuals that have impacted the history of this area,” Amy McVay-Davis, executive director for the HSSENM, said. “It was a unanimous decision this year to honor the dairies of Chaves County.
“It will be undoubtedly the largest group of honorees we’ve ever had,” McVay-Davis said. “We will be paying tribute to HSSENM Heritage Dinner honorees that have passed away in 2019, including retired HSSENM chief archivist Elvis Fleming, HSSENM original member Morgan Nelson, Judge Alvin Jones and David Gonzalez.
“It is not too late for individuals to get involved or contact HSSENM to embrace and/or attend the event,” McVay-Davis said. “It is going to be a wonderful evening of taking a trip down memory lane, and we are so excited for the city of Roswell to celebrate the dairy industry of Chaves County. It is certainly an honor and privilege for HSSENM, and we are inviting Roswell to come out and be part of this wonderful occasion.”
Kaye Whitefoot, deputy executive director of Dairy Producers of New Mexico and Beverly Idsinga, executive director of Dairy Producers of New Mexico talked about the industry, its heritage and future.
“Right now, we have about 140 dairies in all of New Mexico,” Idsinga said. “All of them are family-owned and operated. It’s something that gets passed down from generation to generation. Here in Chaves County, we have 34 dairies, 85,000 cows, which produce 1.8 billion pounds of milk per year, so the economic impact that the dairies here in Chaves County have on the region is phenomenal.
“We’re going to have families coming in that used to have dairies here, that have since retired and moved away. A lot of the dairies started up in the ‘80s and have continued to thrive now into 2019,” Idsinga said.
Asked why the dairy boom happened at that time, Idsinga said, “A lot of families moved out of Southern California because they could sell their land and buy it here cheaper. A lot of the dairy owners wanted to start farming and so they needed larger areas, so they came to New Mexico, which has an arid climate, so it’s good for both growing cows and crops. They grow their own feed to feed the cows and produce milk.
“We are very impressed with their stewardship with the environment, what they do for the community and providing the world with safe and healthy dairy-rich products,” Idsinga said.
Asked about the families with the longest traditions, Whitefoot said that the Greathouses had a long tradition as well as the Villalpando, Visser, DeGroot and Breedyk families.
According to the Roswell Daily Record’s archives, the Greathouse family owned Nature’s Dairy together with the Sapp family, which supplied the area’s schools for 35 years, until the production line closed in 2014. It had started with Gerald Greathouse, Jeff Sapp and 100 cows, from there it grew until it became a $1.8 million operation with 55 employees.
According to McVay-Davis, Charlie DeGroot, president of Dairy Producers of New Mexico, will attend the Heritage Dinner and participate in the presentation.
“Select Milk will be providing dairy products throughout the night,” McVay-Davis said. “There will be milk and of course, ice cream. I think it is important for us to connect all these dots to eventually have a collection and as much history as we can have in our archive facility. We are encouraging people that have been impacted and involved in the dairy industry, to bring information in so we have a collection in the archives for generations. I hope it sparks interest in agriculture … how much they impacted the economy. So many families that have impacted the economy in the industry came from other states, but we are so thankful having them in New Mexico. They don’t often realize the impact they’d had on the history of our area — even though they weren’t from here. We want to celebrate them, no matter where they are now or where they came from: Dairy Max, Select Milk Producers, Southwest Dairy Farmers, Dairy Farmers of America and Dairy Producers of New Mexico have really embraced this event. To me, it is connecting the dots.”
Asked about the industry’s future, Idsinga said, “I think we have some of the most innovative producers in the world. We are No. 1 in efficiency, meaning that we produce more with less. We use less water, we recycle water, things are going to get modernized. I don’t know if that’s going to go toward robotics or anything like that, but right now we are producing the healthiest most nutrient-rich milk in the world in New Mexico.
“We are all family-owned and operated — the original environmental stewards of the Earth. We take care of our animals; we take care of our land; we drink the water that the cows drink — we take care of our girls,” Idsinga said.
McVay-Davis said about the event, “The Heritage Dinner doesn’t focus on entertainment. The Heritage Dinner focuses on our honorees. When we open the doors, there will be a cocktail hour with a silent auction. Even Peter de la Fuente made some donations and will be there. He is very supportive of the event.”
De la Fuente is a painter in the tradition of his grandfather, Peter Hurd, and grew up on the Hurd ranch in Hondo Valley.
“We’ll have amazing live-auction items and Hot Club on the Pecos will be playing from 6 to 7 p.m., McVay Davis said. “Once the dinner is served, we focus on the honorees. We’ll celebrate some of the things that happened in the Historical Society, volunteer of the year, that kind of thing.
“We will segue into some neat presentation about the dairy industry, and there will be a couple surprises,” McVay-Davis said. “We worked hard to get some unique silent-auction items that link to the dairy industry and not only from Roswell. This is our only fundraiser that goes directly into the operating cost and keeping the doors open at the Historical Society.”
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