Dairying in Santa Cruz Part III

Ice Cream, Begonia Scream

One of the pioneers of ice cream production in Santa Cruz, County was James Brown who in 1911, purchased a five-acre parcel of land along 41st Avenue in Capitola. He began with fourteen registered Guernsey heifers and one bull. He built a dairy, and fed the cattle only weed-free feed. His dairy business flourished: he bottled and delivered milk throughout Santa Cruz, and opened several creameries under the name “Moo Cow Ice Cream.”

Four ads for Santa Cruz ice creameries. Image: Santa Cruz Museum of Art and HIstory.
Four ads for Santa Cruz ice creameries. Image: Agricultural History Project.

Brown actually had a lot more than grazing going on at his ranch. Initially, he grew strawberries, but within three years he abandoned strawberries for begonia bulbs. He quickly became an international producer of begonia bulbs, and is the inspiration behind today’s Begonia Festival, and other fresh cut flowers that we associate with Capitola. Incidentally, his weed-free fertilizer business also did quite well.
Moo Cow Ice Cream was a hit both locally and internationally. Brown eventually opened and operated eleven ice cream shops spanning four counties. In addition to the stores, Brown negotiated a deal to include his Moo Cow Ice Cream in the dining cars of the Southern Pacific Railroad. In the 1920s, the Brown Ranch was the leading producer of ice cream in the county. Brown Ranch Marketplace and the Capitola Mall are now located at the site of the original Brown Ranch, which some locals still refer to as “Brown’s Bulb Ranch”.

Marianne’s Ice Cream on 1020 Ocean Street. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/Mobile Ranger
Marianne’s Ice Cream on 1020 Ocean Street. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/Mobile Ranger

Ice-Creameries of Today

Going out for ice cream can be a delightful treat, and buying artisan ice cream from a local creamery is as popular now as it was in the early 20th century. People from Santa Cruz loved their ice cream then and do to this day, as one can often witness an impassioned debate over the merits of each local creamery. However, there is no need to choose between Penny Ice Creamery or Marianne’s Ice Cream, Mission Hill Creamery or Polar Bear. If you spend time in Santa Cruz, you can enjoy them all.


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