Mesa dairyman says thanks with $2 gallon of milk

MESA -- Got milk? JC's Mesa Grocery and Deli in Mesa does, and it's only $1.99 for a gallon jug of reduced-fat milk, thanks to dairyman Case VanderMeulen.

The 45-year-old native of The Netherlands decided to knock a buck off the price of milk just to "say thanks" to his neighbors in north Franklin County and to draw attention to June being National Dairy Month.

Store owner Charles Grimm has balloons that say "milk rocks" inside, and a banner outside to draw attention to the milk promotion.

"Hooray for cows. Celebrate June as Dairy Month," the banner declares.

This Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. customers who purchase a gallon of milk will receive a free reusable shopping bag, a cookbook and dairy-themed items for children, courtesy of the Washington Dairy Products Commission.

Kristyn Mensonides, state dairy ambassador, also will be at the store to meet customers.

VanderMeulen's Coulee Flats Dairy has 4,200 Holstein cows on a 3,300-acre spread just south of Highway 395 at the Highway 17 exit to Mesa.

The man and his cows are a special success story, mostly because VanderMeulen had to come to America to make it big.

His herd is nearly eight times larger than the average size herd in the state, where there are 243,000 dairy cows.

VanderMeulen grew up the youngest of five siblings on a dairy farm in his home country.

"My oldest brother took over the family farm, and the plan was for me to take father's part in the dairy when he retired," VanderMeulen said.

But economic hard times worked against the family dairy operation, and VanderMeulen struck out on his own, heading to America in 1989 at age 23.

"I came here to be in the dairy business," he said, noting that dairies in Chino and Tulare, Calif., were his first stops. But by 1991, VanderMeulen was a Washingtonian.

Using some personal savings, some backing from his family in The Netherlands and "a banker who took a chance on me," he began milking his first herd of 150 cows.

By age 30, VanderMeulen had moved his dairy business to Outlook, and within a few years, added a second dairy, four miles away, in Sunnyside.

The running back and forth between two dairies lasted until 2008, when he left the lower Yakima Valley for new lands east of Mesa.

The Holsteins' new home offers 800 acres of irrigated land on the sprawling 3,300-acre spread.

VanderMeulen said he selected the former row crop farm as a preferred dairy site because it had ample deep-well water for irrigation, would give his cows plenty of feed, and wasn't too far removed from the Tri-Cities.

It also was a reasonable distance from neighbors who might take offense to the occasional dairy odors and other nuisances associated with a livestock operation.

"Dairies come with a few nuisances, but I haven't had any negative comments," VanderMeulen of about his operation in north Franklin County.

Discounting milk by $1 per gallon is his way of thanking the community "for being supportive and allowing me to put in an intense agricultural enterprise out here," he said.

"I really like the country-style attitude of people here. They're down to earth, honest, straightforward and hard-working," he said.

The special price reduction also is VanderMeulen's way of promoting a Washington ag business he believes hasn't done enough to share its successes.

"Dairies in Washington have a good story to tell," said VanderMeulen, who admits he never considered doing anything else to make a living.

"We put out one of the highest quality food products in the country, and we are very environmentally sustainable. We are good stewards of the land," he said.

VanderMeulen's Coulee Flats Dairy is far more than a Dutchman's dream come true or a family farm.

It takes about 45 employees to milk those 4,200 cows three times a day, yielding about 37,000 gallons of milk.

His milk cow product is picked up daily by tanker trucks and delivered to bottling plants in Spokane and Seattle, or to cheese plants in Sunnyside and Boardman.

Like all other dairy operations in the region, VanderMeulen belongs to the Northwest Dairy Association, a co-op that handles the business end of shipping, bottling and processing product.

"It's all about people management and relationships. I've got a good team," he said.

"I have a successful career. My family is impressed," VanderMeulen said.

* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529;