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'Got Name' Is Town's Answer to Offer by Milk Promoter

Tiny Biggs passes on the chance to become Got Milk?, the poster community for dairy board. The search continues.

November 11, 2002|Gabriel Friedman | Special to The Times

BIGGS, Calif. — There may someday be a town in California named "Got Milk?" But not here. Not now.

The residents of this small agricultural hamlet told the big marketing machine that is the California Milk Processor Board last week that they prefer the name the community claimed more than 100 years ago from a prominent wheat grower, Major Marion Biggs.

Undeterred, the dairy marketing board said it would continue its quest to convince one of more than 20 other California communities that a name change might be good for business.

Although most of the towns have so far turned a cold shoulder to the idea, the head of the milk board has pitched the "Got Milk?" name as a way for a small town to market itself, while simultaneously promoting the product.

The milk board's "Got Milk?" campaign will mark its 10-year anniversary in 2003.

Biggs, a community of 1,734 people in the foothills north of Sacramento, drew a brief but furious flurry of media attention in recent weeks when it appeared to seriously entertain the idea of changing its name.

Mayor Sharleta Calloway said that when she heard of the proposal from Jeff Manning, executive director of the milk board, she thought it must be a joke. When Manning told her it wasn't, she asked the city attorney to investigate.

"This was a ray of hope for us," Calloway said. But a lot of residents, she added, "feel Jeff Manning used us for publicity."

"He should focus on building something for the kids here," the mayor added.

Calloway insisted she never supported the name change, but many locals believe she did. There was even talk that Calloway should be recalled.

The only sign of economic activity in the town is the new rice mill, built in 1999 after the town's last mill burned down. Along one block of the main drag, eight shops have boarded their windows and taken signs down.

The closest dairies that remain open near Biggs resemble the greener, more pastoral farms of yesteryear. The county's livestock advisor predicts more dairies may be coming to Butte County and the land around Biggs, as other counties increase environmental controls on dairy farms.

The milk board's Manning told city leaders that the "Got Milk?" name could bring an increase in tourism and, in the short run, it certainly got a number of news crews to swarm over the community.

Manning also suggested a contribution from the milk board might bring a new museum or school improvements to Biggs. But more recently, Manning said neither he nor the California Milk Processor Board would "cut a check" for the town.

Some said they felt they were getting a runaround.

"If he would've just laid out clearly from the beginning a contract stating the terms," maybe there could have been a deal, said one resident, Estella Bushyhead. "But the way it's been done ... [everybody] feels like they're in a circus."

Manning visited Biggs once, to appear on "Good Morning America" during a promotion of the ad campaign. He said he knew it would be a long shot to have the town change its name, but was "honored" that the leaders of Biggs even considered it.

"It was a great couple of weeks together," Manning said.

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