NDA Farmer/Owners

 
 
 

The Northwest Dairy Association (referred to as NDA) is a cooperative with nearly 500 dairy farm members in four Northwestern states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana). These member farms are both independently owned and independently managed companies by their farmer-owners. Darigold is a subsidiary of NDA for the sole purpose of processing and marketing the milk produced by the NDA member farms.

 

VanDellen Farm: Dedication Beyond the Herd

In 1988, Jerry VanDellen returned to the dairy farm he had grown up on in Sumas, Wash., just south of the Canadian border in Whatcom County.

After about a decade back on the farm, Jerry and his wife, Michelle, took over the business from his parents and that’s when it became VanDellen Farm. In its initial years under Jerry and Michelle’s ownership, the farm continued to operate as usual, growing at a steady pace. By 2005 the VanDellens had a herd of 500 cows and have continued to operate at this size ever since.

Commitment to Improvement

Over the years, the VanDellens have been dedicated to continuously improving the operation of their farm. In 2002 and 2005, they took on large building projects that updated the cows’ beds, providing them with a more comfortable space.

Constantly dedicated to care of the cows, Jerry and Michelle decided to build another barn in 2015 that provided an additional 120 sleeping stalls. However, with this addition, they did not increase the number of cows in their herd. This was simply to provide the cows with more space and to increase their comfort. The cows responded by producing more milk, a physical reaction correlated with being relaxed and comfortable.

 

Investing in the Next Generation of Farming


While the VanDellens are constantly focused on the health and comfort of their cows, they are also dedicated to their employees, knowing that the farm would not be able to operate without their hard work.

For example, one employee, Enrique Mendoza, has worked with Jerry for approximately 15 years, and with Jerry’s help is starting his own dairy farm, Mendoza Dairy. After immigrating to the U.S. from Guatemala, Enrique began working at VanDellen Farm in 2003 as a milker. Throughout his tenure on the farm, Enrique also worked as a feeder and eventually became the manager in 2008.

His steadfast interest in farming and loyal dedication to the business was apparent. Jerry often refers to him as a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge he can. In fact, Enrique was so interested in learning more about new topics, that he found a week-long program at a school in Colorado focused on pregnancy and ultrasounds for dairy cows. Though the VanDellens don’t have this particular equipment at their farm and typically outsource this work, they knew it was something Enrique was interested in pursuing. They paid for him to attend the course which enabled him to continue broadening his expertise.

The VanDellens recognized the importance of providing Enrique with an opportunity to experience how other farms work. To further reinforce Enrique’s drive to learn more, he dedicated his days off and his early morning hours as a relief breeder for All West Select Sires and others in the area to gain a better understanding of the genetics industry.

After Enrique had spent nearly a decade working at VanDellen Farm, Jerry asked Enrique what his personal goals were, and Enrique shared with Jerry that he wanted to be a dairy farm owner.

When reflecting on this moment, Jerry said, “Because Enrique was here, pouring himself into my farm, I wanted to help make his goals and dreams happen. I wouldn’t have been successful without Enrique’s dedication and drive, so I wanted to do anything I could to make him successful in achieving his goal.”


 

The Future of the Farms

The VanDellens worked with Enrique for several years to identify the right facilities to start Enrique’s farm, Mendoza Dairy. In late 2017, an opportunity presented itself and on Jan. 1, 2018, Mendoza Dairy began its operation and joined the Northwest Dairy Association, of which Darigold is a subsidiary. Currently the VanDellens and Enrique own the farm together, but once Mendoza Dairy is more established, the VanDellens plan to step back and Enrique will be the majority owner.

In the next five or six years, Jerry plans to assess the future of VanDellen Farm. With three children of his own, he plans to determine if any of them are interested in taking over the family business. If not, he’s said that it’s a possibility that he and his wife will dissolve VanDellen Farm, allowing Mendoza Dairy to take over their facilities and giving Enrique’s business an opportunity to continue growing and thriving.