Extension agents have been immensely helpful to Trav and I as we search for farmers who would be willing to spend an hour with us chatting about themselves during their busiest time of year. The most-helpful-extension-agent-award in North Carolina would go to Adam Ross, who booked us three appointments on June 22nd and then drove us to each one. Because the farmers trusted him they were willing to meet us, and we met some amazing folks.
First up was a dairy farm near Asheboro run by the Allens, a father and son team. The dairy has about 120 cows and when we asked about challenges that they face I could almost predict the answer. "Milk prices!" Again, no one really knows how the milk market works; it is a confusing chaotic and ever changing business and farmers can't really do anything about it except hope for the best. One farmer told us that the system they use for trying to predict the milk prices is SWAG: scientific wild ass guessing. Though the Allens do everything they need to do and take care of the cows as best they can, they may be able to pay the bills at the end of the month or they may not.
The patriarch of the family, Bobby's grandfather, has the land tied up in development issues. Often farmers will put their land into an easement or a trust and it benefits the family and conserves the land. Unfortunately this has caused trouble in this family; Bobby and his father would like to expand the dairy, upgrade some buildings, and put a couple more modern structures up...but they can't because of this easement. Usually the point of this is to avoid developments for housing, etc., but it has backfired. They are worried that it will hurt the business and, if health issues come up at the nursing home that his grandfather now lives in and the dairy is in a bad year, they are at risk of losing the farm. Bobby is fourth-generation on the dairy.
Joe Allen (Bobby's father) explained all this as his cows, which were just milked, ambled behind us from the barn to their pasture. The Allens are another example of farmers I wish everyone could meet, as I think some myths and negative press towards farmers could be undone. I was again jolted by my initial perceptions of farmers before I knew much about them or started this trip. Now here I am listening to Mr. Allen tell us that he planted a field of clover because the cows love clover, and I see a caretaker who doesn't just serve his livestock, he seems to love them.