About a mile from my home in North Carolina just south of Greensboro, Rick and Greg Williams operate Williams Dairy, a fourth generation family owned dairy farm. With their mother Jeanette, Rick's wife Barbara and son Michael, and one outside employee, the Williams brothers farm over 500 acres and milk a herd of about 250 Holstein dairy cows (125 that they milk with another 125 that they are raising). They grow all their feed (which is a considerable amount, seeing that some of their cows give close to 100 pounds of milk per day), raise calves and milk twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year.
The Williams' operation is rare now. At one time rural Randolph County, North Carolina was filled with family farms, but as the face of agriculture has changed and with the increase in development in the area, and the escalation of land values, working farms have gradually disappeared. Their lifestyle is like the one I grew up a part of, and I hate to see it go away. In fact, my father and their father shared equipment and labor for many years when my own family milked cows. Their grandmother was one of the best cooks in the neighborhood and she cooked huge amounts of good food daily for the farmhands. It's a hard way to make a living, but it's a way of life that is important and valuable, and for the Williams, it provides genuine satisfaction and independence. For that reason, I've decided to create an ongoing project for myself; that is, to document local family farms and businesses before they totally go away.
Because of the cost involved with maintaining such a large operation and keeping the land in their family, the Williams brothers placed some of their land in the Piedmont Land Conservancy. The PLC seeks to preserve rural farmland through the use of non-development easements. Basically they buy development rights to land (which gives family farmers some value for their land), leaving the owners with the ability to continue to farm their land without having to worry about development pushing them out, and preserving large tracts of rural land for posterity. The Williams farm is in the PLC's Liberty-Randleman Farmland Protection Corridor. My own family is hoping to do the same with our land. For more info, go to http://www.piedmontland.org/.
(images copyright 2008 by Dan Routh)