Where the redwoods meet the sea along the rugged California Coastline, Alexandre Family Farm is leading the way in regenerative dairy. Like most fourth-generation farmers, Blake and Stephanie Alexandre set out to build an operation that their children could be a part of, and one day inherit. Their strategy was “Build it and they will come,” Blake tells us. “We wanted to make our farm a viable option for our kids as they grew up, met their spouses, and made an adult decision of where they're going to go and what they're going to do. Basically, to create an environment that is friendly to them. That led us down a path of being unique and different. Organic was a big part of that in the early 1990s. And in the last five years, regenerative has been capturing more attention.”
Today, now 30 years after first purchasing an incredible piece of farmland in Del Norte’s Crescent City to start their own dairy farm, they not only run the farm alongside their grown children and their spouses, but their oldest daughter, Vanessa, now manages the farm under Blake’s guidance and mentorship. “She has about 35 people under her, so I spend a lot of time with her on a daily basis,” Blake tells us. “We're either driving around the farm looking at the fields and organizing the grazing management or talking about managing the cows, the milk quality, and the people.”
Health has always been their focus. As early adopters of organic farming—the ninth farm in California to become certified organic—over the last five years, the Alexandre family has taken the next big step in agriculture by employing regenerative agricultural principles. In 2021, Alexandre Family Farm became the first Certified Regenerative Dairy in the U.S. “Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic approach to farming that goes beyond organic practices—which prohibit the use of synthetic inputs—to work with the natural systems of the ecosystem to improve the health and biomass of the soil, increase biodiversity, improve water conservation and quality, and sequester carbon to improve our planet’s resilience to climate change.” Just as their great grandparents did generations before them, the Alexandre family has been farming in harmony with their habitats.
Their regenerative, organic approach is to move carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the Earth’s soil. “Regenerating is understanding the biology in the system and what's going on below the ground, as well as managing what's going on above the ground.” In the simplest of terms, Blake tells us that he defines regenerative “as simply managing the soil, managing the carbon cycle, and keeping the whole ecology in balance, in harmony with mother nature.” And because this is an awareness that a lot of farmers do not have yet—it has not been taught at universities—Blake feels “somewhat responsible to help teach my peer group.” But giving back and contributing to the agricultural industry is nothing new to Blake, including advising agricultural groups on better programming on a national and international level.
While Blake spends a good amount of time on the administrative side of the dairy business, what draws him to the life of a farmer is no different than most—simply to live an honest life outdoors. “It’s the ability to be outside and to live on a beautiful farm watching nature. The core of what I really love doing is continuously getting better at growing the grass, grazing the grass, and then managing the cattle. We have green grass 12 months out of the year; a lot of life and a lot of activity. It's fun to try to get better.”
As much pride and pleasure that the Alexandre family gets out of being stewards of the land, it is no easy task. With 9,000 acres of farmland to manage, what they do is a seven-day a week business, 365 days a year. “Our dairy farms kick on at about 3:00 AM with bringing the cows in and starting the milking process. Those who start feeding cows come around at 4:00 AM and by 6:00 AM, everybody's out and about working. In the summer, we wrap up for the day around 7:00 PM. The cows are being milked in a split shift, so a second set of people come and milk until 10:00 PM or even midnight sometimes. The milk barn is running a lot and we milk in five different milk barns so there's a lot of complexity to what we do.”
To successfully manage their farm, they need a team with a strong work ethic. “The necessary skillset is tenacity. You cannot give up—ever. It takes a can-do attitude.”
As busy as they are, their guiding force is simply to always do the right thing—according to the environment, human welfare, and animal welfare. And according to Blake, following those principles leads to a better dairy operation. “When you're in harmony with the ground, the soil, and the plants, then our milk and eggs and meat literally have better nutrition and a deeper depth of flavor. Once you get hooked on the real good stuff, then everything else is a step down. We have consumers that are long term supporters of what we do. And it's just fun to be part of that.”
To learn more about Alexandre Family Farm, visit their website at alexandrefamilyfarm.com
Boots ideal For Dairy Farming:
Living in a perpetually wet environment, either on concrete washing down cow manure or out in the fields where the grass is extremely wet with dew every morning, the crew at Alexandre Family Farm are almost always wearing rubber boots. “We literally live in rubber boots for 10 to 14 hours a day.”
Six months out of the year, it gets dry enough where some members of the crew can switch over to leather boots. “We wear anything from pull-on to lace-up to heavy-duty and comfortable.”
Steel Toe Boots:
While they are not required on the dairy farm, some prefer to work in steel toe boots. “They choose steel toe boots because they're working around cattle that are stepping on their toes.”