About a mile from my home in Randolph County, 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 a couple of outside employees, 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 almost all of 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 type of operation the Williams' run 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 as 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.
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. For more info, go to http://www.piedmontland.org/.
Recently the Williams family has joined forces with another local operation, Goat Lady Dairy. They are providing the milk for Goat Lady's delicious cow milk gouda cheese, Lindale. A little over a mile apart, their collaboration produces a truly local product. For more info on that and other cheeses, go to http://www.goatladydairy.com/cheese-products.php.
(Photographs copyright 20015 by Dan Routh)