Fresh from the dairy

Written by Robert Husseman, The Triplicate June 22, 2013 01:44 pm

Dalton Alexandre, center, competed in track and football: “I love track because of the comaraderie and the friendships.”
Dalton Alexandre, center, competed in track and football: “I love track because of the comaraderie and the friendships.” Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Blake and Stephanie Alexandre have raised five “naive rednecks” — Blake’s words — on the family dairy outside of Smith River.

The Alexandres, proprietors of Alexandre EcoDairy, own 2,500 acres in Del Norte County and about 8,000 acres across northwestern California.

Dalton Alexandre is the fourth “naive redneck” in the family. He graduated with the Del Norte High class of 2013 on Friday, ending “school vacation” — again, Blake’s words. For the next three months, he will be working the family’s land, transporting bales of hay in the Harobed, tending to the chickens and doing whatever else is required of him.

Dalton has three older siblings — Joseph, Christian and Vanessa — who set the example for his high school years. (The fifth Alexandre child is Savanna, who will be a freshman at Del Norte High in the fall.) The older children paid attention in school and extracurriculars, got good grades, matriculated to college and set generally high behavioral standards.

“I’ve never seen kids as well-raised as them,” says Tom Bessette, a rancher from Klamath and a family friend. “They all have the same sense of values. The whole idea was, you live here, you work here, (home) is where it’s at.”

The “naive rednecks” attended school five days a week, worked Saturdays and observed the Sabbath on Sundays. They are discouraged from dating in high school — “The reason you date is you’re going to marry (that person),” Blake says, so needless to say drinking, drugs and sex are also out. Blake chastised Dalton a couple months ago for buying an energy drink after a night out, calling it “a treat.” Dalton’s cell phone does not have texting capabilities.

Dalton participated in athletics. Joseph played football and ran track for the Warriors. Christian played football and ran track. Vanessa played volleyball and ran track. All three set a high standard with their conduct in practices and games.

“They had to work — get out and do the farm duties (in the summer),” says Del Norte High football coach Ray Rook, a longtime family friend of the Alexandres. “(Joseph and Christian) would come in (to fall camp) as strong or stronger than other boys.”

Life lessons from sports

Blake and Stephanie Alexandre did not set out to raise athletes. Nevertheless, they believe in the capacity for sport to teach life lessons.

“Sports are only good when handled correctly,” says Blake, a former Ferndale High football player. “We try to keep it in perspective. High school sports come and go.”

Dalton is young. He turned 17 on May 4 and is a full year older than many in his graduating class. Joseph was younger than his class when he entered school. Christian was young. Vanessa was young.

“School was coming easy for him at 3 years old,” Stephanie says of Dalton. “He just sailed right through.”

Dalton’s Alexandre-ness is a badge of honor at times, a burden at others. In his family, Dalton is certifiably Dalton, an individual.

Start with the hair — a full, curly brown mane when he grows it out enough. Blake and Stephanie have no idea which parent’s genes are responsible.

Dalton has sung in the Del Norte High choir for the last two years and is a self-taught pianist; no other Alexandre child has exhibited a musical side. “These are unique things for our family,” Blake says. 

Dalton has a rebellious streak, an impulsive nature that leads him to do things like, oh, say, dump cow manure on the Del Norte High front lawn as a senior prank. (He would neither confirm nor deny these allegations to the Triplicate.)

“I set these personal goals for me — if I get an idea, I have to do this because I won’t be able to do it again,” Dalton says.

He has a quick wit but exhibits class clown behavior, a sign of immaturity to his parents. His grades, once straight A’s, slipped over his last two years of school.

“With Dalton, we thought his work ethic was a little subpar,” Blake says. “Now that’s going to fall on his shoulders to fix.” 

Dalton as ‘Coach’

Before his senior year began, Dalton set a personal goal.

“I want to try and get the most out it,” he recalls saying before the school year began. “I lost my competitive edge in school this year. I enjoyed school more.”

He translated his goal into sports: “Winning isn’t the main goal. Doing well personally is.”

This past football season, Dalton played loose and played well. Coach Rook promoted him from his reserve position to starting middle linebacker after the Warriors’ third game, and he held the spot for the rest of the season.

“When we asked him to do the things he could do, he did a great job,” Rook says. “Dalton came in with an expectation level (set by his brothers). I thought Dalton was unsure with what Dalton is. He blossomed into Dalton.”

The personal growth continued through track season, Dalton’s truest sporting passion.

“I feel like football is easy to fall in love with because of the major fan base in the county,” Dalton says. “I love track because of the camaraderie and the friendships.”

This spring, Dalton set personal bests in the 110-meter high hurdles (16.40 seconds), the 300-meter hurdles (42.74), the long jump (18 feet, 6.25 inches) and the triple jump (40-5) — his four primary events. He finished third in the triple jump, 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles at the Humboldt-Del Norte League Championships on May 10.

As one of six seniors on a young track and field team, Dalton also instructed freshmen and sophomores who were knew to the events. Warriors head track and field coach Samuel Escobar would jokingly address him as “Coach.”

“The fact that this kid continued to show up every single day, worked on his skills, and was determined to get better — as a coach, you appreciate that,” Escobar says. “The fact that we could give him some responsibilities and that we felt comfortable that they would be done is much appreciated.”

The kids’ business

Dalton’s Alexandre-ness manifests itself most prominently when he begins to discuss the egg business.

Seven years ago, Joseph and Christian bought 100 chickens and began to produce eggs. They sold those eggs, bought more chickens with the profits and continued to produce eggs.

Today, the Alexandre EcoDairy egg business employs 56,000 hens in the laying of its farm-fresh eggs. Whole Foods has a distribution contract with the dairy, selling the eggs in its supermarkets in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“As each older sibling moves out, the younger sibling takes over and watches it,” Dalton explains. “Because it’s expanded so much — my parents dedicated an employee to watch and collect eggs — it’s stepped out from a family business to a whole business.

“There’s almost unlimited room to expand. It’s a really nice thing that we have eggs. I feel like the dairy is almost a front for the egg business.”

Dalton envisions a future where each of his siblings starts a new agricultural business, producing a different crop or vertically integrating into more refined products — say, a creamery attached to the dairy. He’s already named the prospective conglomerate: Alexandre Industries.

Dalton remembers visiting a newly acquired piece of land with his parents. The land had a small patch of trees on it, which his parents said would have to be cleared.

“Alexandre Industries: Now selling lumber,” he thought.

Extending himself

Dalton will be attending California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. This is not a surprise, and yet it is. 

Christian is graduating from Cal Poly this year, an agricultural business major. Joseph and Vanessa both attend Cal Poly; both are studying agricultural business. Blake and Stephanie also attended Cal Poly, where they first met.

“Honestly, we told our kids, ‘Go somewhere else,’” Stephanie says. 

But they didn’t, and Dalton won’t. After visiting the campus on a college trip organized by Del Norte High last year, Dalton couldn’t.

“Once we hit Poly, it almost felt as if I was home,” Dalton says. “I can see myself enjoying college at this spot.”

Dalton is enrolled in Cal Poly’s agricultural business program. He has already made up his mind to switch. He will be the first Alexandre in the agricultural engineering program.

“Why I applied for agricultural business was, it’s something I do understand and something I’m good at. It’s something I’ve studied all my life,” Dalton says. “I’m going to do ag engineering because I enjoy numbers and I’m good with numbers. Because I’m different, it made sense for who I am.”

He leans back in his chair. Looks down at the table in front of him. Searches for his next words.

“It’s so distant to me,” he intones, referring to ag engineering. “It almost frightens me a little bit. I don’t know the technicalities of it. I’m taking each step as I come to it.”

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