Neighborhoods

Neighborhood Stories: Jamaica’s Cow Catcher

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Last month, national news outlets descended on Jamaica to watch a live bullfight. When a bovine escaped a slaughterhouse on Beaver Road and attempted to secure its freedom, dodging concerned residents and NYPD alike for hours, viewers nationwide cheered on the bull’s escape. (Unfortunately, it later died after taking too many tranquilizer darts in the side.)

The bull’s run was at least the third cow escape in the area since 2009, and brought new attention to the remaining vestiges of Jamaica’s early days as a meat and dairy producer, before the BMT’s J line opened up the area to urbanization in the 1910s. Indeed, housing and shopping centers went up side by side with Jamaica’s new city amenities, with livestock facilities defiantly staying put to this very day.

Until recently, Jamaica was home to the city’s last remaining dairy bottler, Elmhurst Farms: Its Liberty Avenue location had occupied fifteen acres since the 1930s, making it the largest bottling plant in New York City. While the cows had long since left the Jamaica site, Elmhurst Farms continued to bottle milk and supported over 270 union jobs until changing tastes and more competition meant the owners simply couldn’t sustain the operation anymore, and the company shut its doors for good in October 2016. But many New Yorkers will long remember the feeling of warily sizing up a carton of “Elmhurst Dairy” milk at the bodega, and wondering just how good a milk packaged in city limits could be. As it turned out, pretty good, and cheap — and, sadly, no longer available. 

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