By Greg Niemann
Americans have been flocking to the Baja California coastline seeking ocean view properties for years. To about 7,000 cows on a bluff at Descanso (south of Primo Tapia) however, it’s no big deal. For years the Jersey Dairy cattle have been chewing their cuds on that hillside above the sea, oblivious to the coveted ocean vista below.
It had been about 25 years since I’d last visited the Jersey Dairy stables, even though it is just to the south of my place in Cantamar. Recently I noticed the on-ramp to the toll road across from the popular Splash restaurant, and remembered that to get to the dairy, you just continued up that hill.
Curious, I turned and drove up past the on-ramp and up a narrow pot-holed road. Still well used by trucks going and coming with supplies and milk, I quickly determined that the dairy was still there. There is now a guard gate with restricted access.
I was seeking what was formerly a very pretty and well-maintained Parque del Niño behind the Jersey Dairy. The hidden park is actually part of the dairy and nestled snugly against the bluffs behind it. Few even know there’s a large dairy between the toll road and the hills, especially with the prevailing breezes blowing the dairy scent away from the beach communities.
Fewer still knew about the “children’s park,” a wonderful garden of swings, teeter-totters, slides and much more. Back in the 1980s several of us from Cantamar used to take grandchildren and other Baja guests who had young ones.
Gaining entrance, I found the Parque del Niño still there, still maintained and as inviting as ever. But it was vacant, locked, and appeared to have been closed for some time.
The Jersey dairy operation there is officially called Establo (Stable) No.2 de la Cuenca Lechera El Descanso. The Parque del Niño was built for the children of the employees, many of whom live in company housing on site. It was opened to the public and became popular with families from around the area.
Wanting to know more, I found the dairy operation offices just down from the park. There the affable 83-year-old manager Rogelio Reynoso and his son Rogelio Reynoso M. confirmed that the children’s park was closed and had been for three years; reopening it was still uncertain. Yet they provided gardeners and maintenance people to continue keeping it in very tidy operating conditions.
Jersey Leche is everywhere
Jersey, officially Pasteurizadora Jersey del Noroeste, S.A. is a large regional dairy serving the northwest Mexican states of Baja California, BCS, Sonora, and Sinaloa. Based in Tijuana, it has been a familiar Baja mainstay for decades, providing pasteurized whole milk, 2 and 1%, non-fat, and chocolate milk, creams, yogurts, butter, and assorted juices.
Originally called Lechería La Suiza, the Jersey Dairy was founded in 1926 by Don Cesareo Jimenez Perez. His son Don Ernesto Jimenez Orozco took over and, along with many innovations to the entire dairy industry, he became a major Baja California benefactor.
For example, Don Ernesto Jimenez donated his company's products to orphanages, asylums, rehabilitation centers, convents and religious orders that fulfill community work. He also offered scholarships and donated books and school supplies to children in need. He financed the construction and equipment of the building that houses the Tijuana Historical Society and created the Tijuana History Museum.
Tradition of Parks
Wanting to do more to thank the communities served, early on the company began building parks for children and families. There are similar parks to the one at Descanso in Tijuana and Ensenada. Some are still in operation, but the jewel in the Jersey crown is the Valle de Guadalupe Zoo. What was originally slated as a kiddy park like the others but larger with more entities, Don Ernesto’s Valle de Guadalupe project morphed into a full-fledged zoo, becoming the state’s second largest zoo. Now 11 years old, Zoológico Parque del Niño Jersey has become a hit. Along with camels, monkeys, baboons, hippos, emus, guinea pigs and other animals, the 30-plus acres in Guadalupe Valley features swimming pools, paddle boats, playground equipment, palapas and picnic tables. There’s a petting zoo and even a little train for rides around the park.
The zoo, not that far from Ensenada, has become a welcome addition to the flourishing Guadalupe Valley. I’m glad that Jersey has expanded its efforts in providing community recreation, but still saddened that that original Parque del Niño at Descanso has not yet been reopened. Don Ernesto Jimenez Orozco passed away in 2014 at the age of 89. Jersey is now being run by his sons, Horacio Jimenez Berumen and Ernesto de Jesus Jimenez Berumen.
A Case for Gerontology
With Jimenez actively running the company at age 89, the company culture has set a good example for employing the older set and there are numerous long-time employees. For many years a very old man named Daniel tended the flowers at the Descanso Parque del Niño. The aged, yet friendly dairy worker took noticeable pride in the park’s gardens.
Talking to him in 1993 I asked how old he was. Daniel Flores, whose appropriate surname means “flowers,” answered with a proud smile. At first I thought I misinterpreted the Spanish and made him repeat his answer. He was over 100 years old! Yet he was still quite mobile and agile. Not only that, his mind was active too.
One day in 1995 I saw him walking briskly up the street at the Primo Tapia Saturday market and introduced him to a visiting friend. According to what he had told me, he was then 108 years old!
Six months later I noticed an article about him in the Mexican newspaper Ecos de Rosarito. The article confirmed, “...Daniel Flores Maldonado, de 109 años de edad, nació en Patzcuaro, Michoacán el 27 de Julio de 1887...” Born in 1887! 109 years old!
Flores had an interesting life before he was employed by Jersey Dairy and loved to talk about it. He was an early political leader, helping to found the PAN party. As a young man he had known Francisco I. Madero, President of Mexico (1911-1913).
In my researching birth dates of mostly rural-born Mexicans, I have found poorly-kept or non-existent records. But even if off by a couple of years, based on his experiences in life he was still well over 100!
Two years later I found the centenarian sitting peacefully in a wheelchair in the backyard of the modest home of his caretakers on the Jersey property. He tilted back his “Jersey Dairy” baseball cap to show a full head of hair and he smiled when he saw me.
Caretaker Agripina Arias Castillas commented admiringly, “He’s only been in the chair this last year. He doesn’t move around too well now, but then again he’s pushing 112 years old.” She added, “And he loves to eat and still enjoys ranchero music.” But his favorite pastime was sitting outside in the backyard overlooking the broad, sweeping Descanso Bay just like the cattle across the road.
His life had been full; it has transcended over a century in which he’s seen his country in revolution, wars, peace and growth. It was a tribute to his employer that he was able to spend his declining years with Jersey Dairy where he finally passed away.
On my revisit last month I asked Rogelio Reynoso if he remembered Flores. His eyes lit up as he recalled Daniel Flores. “Sí, el viejo.” As I looked out past the cattle and the superb ocean view, I thought it interesting for an 83-year-old man to call someone else “the old one.”
Ready to leave, reminiscing about Daniel and admiring the company policies on keeping and respecting older employees, I noticed a couple of high-rise buildings fronting the sparkling blue ocean. Called Palacio del Mar it seemed obvious that tenants in upper floors would have a commanding view of the dairy – and the 7,000 cows looking back at them!
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.