The “Perks” of Organics
Rem and Mary Perkins go back to basics on their organic dairy farm in Greenbrier County.
Photographed by Amanda Reed Photography
Next time you pick up a container of Stonyfield Farms yogurt or any Organic Valley product at the grocery store, chances are you’re consuming organically produced milk from the Mountain State’s own Perk Farm Organic Dairy in Greenbrier County. As the number of dairy farms around the country continues to dwindle, one farm, located in the little community of Frankford, just outside of Lewisburg, is still going strong thanks to its owners embracing a growing trend. Perk Farm is the only dairy farm of its kind in the state. “Organic dairying is basically farming with nature,” says Remington “Rem” Perkins, third generation owner of Perk Farm.
Rem and his wife, Mary, took over the farm in 2001 from his parents, Harry and Jannie Perkins. His grandfather bought the land in 1942. Presently, the 1,200-acre farm provides a home for 700 Jersey cows. “We use Jerseys to produce our milk because they are the smallest type of dairy breed, and they give the richest milk—the highest in protein and butterfat content,” explains Rem. In 2006, Rem decided he wanted to transition from traditional dairying by taking a chance on organic methods. “At first, my father was concerned when I told him I was going to go organic. I told him I was getting paid the same price for my milk as he had and that I was going to give it a try. He eventually got behind us 110 percent,” says Rem.
Although the Perkinses decided to make the switch to organic dairying in 2006, they could not begin producing their organic milk until October 2009. “It takes three years to switch the land and one year of feeding the cows organically before you can start selling organic milk. The third year you’re transitioning your land, you’re allowed to supply the cows with the feed you’ve been producing, and any supplementary feed you purchase must be organic,” says Rem. In addition, there are other regulations that must be followed before the produced milk can be considered organic. “Growing or producing organically means there is no use of hormones, antibiotics, or anything that ends in ‘–cide,’ such as pesticides or fungicides,” Rem says.
– Rem Perkins
While the transition to organic dairy has been a long process, Rem believes it to be a worthwhile venture. “It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made for the farm. It’s better for the farm itself, it’s better for the cows, it’s better for everybody,” Rem says. “As my wife says, when we were farming conventionally, we were trying to make money, and now we’re farming because it’s fun again—that’s the way it should be. We don’t dread getting up in the morning because we may not make any money. Now, we can pay all the bills and take what’s left and put it back into the farm.”
A lot has changed since the Perkinses switched their milk to organic. Their Jerseys used to be one of the top herds in the country, but now they aren’t producing as much. “We’re not asking the cows to produce 60 pounds of milk a day. For years we were one of the top milk producers in the country, but we were also going broke doing it. There wasn’t enough money left after trying to get that much milk out of the cows. Now, we’ve dropped back to 45 pounds per cow and it doesn’t take nearly as much feed, grain, and very expensive supplements to be able to generate that 45 pounds of milk. The cows aren’t as stressed, so they don’t get sick near as much, and instead of us pushing them to produce all that they can, they produce what they are comfortable producing,” says Rem.
Though the field of organics is growing, and a lot of progress has been made, Rem believes there is still room for development. “They’ve made a lot of advancements now with organics and knowing about certain weeds. The one thing organics will teach you is that it doesn’t matter what the problem is—you can trace it back to your soil. Whether it’s milk fever, thistles in your fields—there’s always a reason in the soil,” he says. However, Rem says funding for research and education at the collegiate level isn’t where it should be. “It’s all pretty much farmers talking to farmers. It’s all trial and error and learning from experience.” Unfortunately, in the Perkinses’ case, attending meetings and being able to discuss issues with other organic farmers proves difficult. “There aren’t any other organic farms here in West Virginia—the closest are in Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Rem explains.
Rem strongly believes that operating organically should be a priority of all farmers. “Organics provide an opportunity for the next generation to return to the farm and be able to make a living—not just get by.”
Perk Farm Organic Dairy, HC 37, Box 68, Frankford, WV 24938; 304.667.3529