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Moo Town - Kern County’s Dairy Industry

Meadowland Dairy used to sit at 16th and O streets, where Rabobank Arena and the Convention Center sit today.--photos courtesy Kern County Library

Kern County has a rich agricultural heritage. Grapes, cotton, and citrus are just some of the popular crops that are shipped out worldwide. Kern County also has a rich heritage in the dairy industry. In 1908, J.G. Stahl wrote about the fruitfulness of the dairy industry in Kern County. In The Spirit of Bakersfield and Kern, he wrote that dairymen in this county stand to enjoy benefits that only a few counties in California could offer. These “irrigated lands of Kern County” were crucial in sustaining the “most important factor in the dairy industry”: a large supply of feed crops such as alfalfa and corn. Another important factor was the climate, and, as Stahl points out, “there is never a day in the year too cold for the cattle to go out to feed or water, and we have more days of sunshine than almost any other industry.” The small farmer who endeavored to engage in dairying, Stahl concludes, will place “himself in an independent position, as well as retaining for himself all the profit there is in business.” One such entrepreneur moved from Traver, California to Bakersfield to capitalize on the opportunity.

H.R. Peacock came to Bakersfield around 1902. While in Traver, he owned a livery and creamery business. He was attracted to Kern County for many of the reasons Stahl highlighted in his article. Soon after settling in Kern County, Peacock founded the Kern County Creamery which was a new industry for Bakersfield. He was very successful and as his business grew, he reached a daily output of 1,200 pounds of butter, the bulk of which was sold and consumed in Bakersfield. His business thrived unchallenged for a while, but that all eventually changed.

On April 16, 1913 the Bakersfield Californian reported that a new creamery incorporated with a beginning capital of $15,000. Calhoun Collins, a ranch hand at the McKittrick Ranch in 1913, tells how the idea unfolded when he wrote “Mr. Kincaid, a promoter from Newman, came to the ranch and with the Captain [McKittrick] and some neighboring ranchers, organized the Meadowland Creamery.” Meadowland used to sit at 16th and O streets, where Rabobank Arena and the Convention Center sit today. “[...]The Promoter, Mr. Kincaid, brought with him from Newman a man to run the outfit named N. Jensen, who was born in Denmark, on January 16, 1881. This Mr. Niels Jensen sure knew his P’s and cheese, and could shake more butter out of a five-gallon can of cream than grandma with her up and down churn.” H.R. Peacock’s business was in trouble because the new Meadowland Creamery was a co-operative institution with forty-five farmers from across Kern County participating. These farmers also held stock in the company and therefore had a vested interest in marketing a quality product.

The grand opening of the Meadowland Creamery came on Sunday August 11, 1913. Many residents journeyed out to the ranch to see the new butter-making sensation. Crowds poured through the facility all day long and were able to see firsthand the equipment in action.

The addition of the Meadowland Creamery to Kern’s Dairy Industry added 500 pounds daily output of butter to the pounds Peacock’s Creamery was producing. While there was a healthy competition between the two creameries, the goal of Kern County dairymen was to be able to meet the daily consumption of 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of butter by Bakersfield residents and “the sections of the country tributary to this city.” Kern dairymen also sought to wean Kern County from supplemental supplies coming in from Tulare and Kings counties.

This shot, taken by Carleton Watkins in the 1880s, shows cowboys branding at the Lakeside Ranch.

Meadowland butter quickly became a Bakersfield and Kern County trademark and was to be found by shoppers in markets all over the county for .30 cents a pound.

The Meadowland Creamery was a big success and it shared its accomplishments with the community. Articles in various newspapers highlighted the company’s philanthropy. Meadowland products were often donated for charity fund-raisers such as Red Cross dinners and other support groups. Its employees also gave themselves to the community. During the Great War, Meadowland employees such as Martin Petersen, Otto Nelson, and others joined up in the fight for freedom.

At the end of the War, our boys came home and things began to get back to normal when tragedy struck at the Meadowland Creamery. On the morning of October 2, 1919 fire struck down the Bakersfield icon. The Californian reported that the source was defective wiring from an electric motor. Firefighters from two stations were able to put the fire out, however, “the entire roof of the building was burned off and the dairy machinery inside was heavily damaged, this being the chief source of the loss.” And though company officials assured its patrons it would not suspend its operation, production came to a grinding halt.

After six months of “forced idleness,” the company announced in March 1920 it would be resuming operations and expected “to be running full blast by the first of April.” The new building was reported to be fireproof as it was built with brick and concrete. The creamery was also equipped with the most up-to-date dairy equipment. As predicted, the creamery was back in full operation by April 1920. Two years later, the creamery expanded its output to include ice cream.

In 1925, Peter Cattani, one of the original members of the board of directors, bought out the Meadowland from the dairymen who started it at the McKittrick Ranch. He settled in Weedpatch in 1911 and began dairy farming. On his ranch he operated the Vineland Cheese Factory, which was, for years, the largest in Kern County. After owning the Meadowland for ten years, he sold it to Jim Anderson, who renamed it the Superior Creamery. Peter Cattani died in 1960 but by the time of his death, the Meadowland had long faded from existence.

Article appeared in our 27-3 Issue - August 2010