Brothers chose eastern operation for proximity to feed
By ERICK PETERSON
For the Capital Press
When brothers Dirk and Bill Van Slageren started Cherry Hill Dairy, they wanted to do something that they enjoyed. For them, it was a departure from their father's work.
"You either farm the sea or you farm the land," Dirk said. Their father, a commercial fisherman, chose the sea.
It was work that he remembers doing for years, spanning his early teenage years and leading into his mid-20s. He took several trips to Alaska, and it made him seasick.
Meanwhile, he developed a taste for a different life: dairying. During his high school years, he worked at dairies and raised heifers. His paternal grandfather was a dairyman, as were numerous members of both his father's and his mother's families.
Given the choice between operating a dairy and becoming a career fisherman, he made a decision that was easy for him.
"I chose the land," he said. He liked cows, and he knew enough about them to set out on a good career.
The next decision involved figuring out where to farm. He had family on both sides of the Cascade Mountains, and they advised the brothers to go east. Dairies on the east side of the state had several advantages to those in the west. They are closer to more sources of feed and feed production. Hay is more abundant, and there is more corn silage. Also, there is more ground for building a dairy.
He and his brother decided on the Yakima Valley of Washington state, in Granger. They started Cherry Hill Dairy there in 1986.
Van Slageren, during these years, has enjoyed the company of other people in his industry.
"We get along, to a degree, and we have to be tight knit," he said. Dairies in the area have a number of challenges to face. Though competitors, they frequently meet at community events, industry conferences and meetings.
It has created a pleasant environment, with dairy professionals becoming friends as well as neighbors, he said. And, sharing common concerns, they feel as if they have common causes.
At the same time, they face vocal criticism by people who, in Van Slageren's opinion, are not always fair. He said that these critics are an even bigger problem for dairies that are larger than Cherry Hill, as they often target the largest dairies.
He said that he is concerned with safe environmental practices, and he is happy to comply with regular checks and regulations.
While he works on solving these issues, and trying to convince others that he is working toward their best interest as well as his, he tries to build a business that supports his family.
"It isn't always easy, but nothing good ever is," he said.
Cherry Hill Dairy
Location: Granger, Wash.
Owner: Dirk and Bill Van Slageren
Years operating: Since 1986
Co-op membership: Farmers Cooperative Creamery
Total cows: More than 500