Ward and Rosie Burroughs

Merced County, California

The Burroughs family collective of farms is a legacy that spans a century. Their family-owned, fourth generation farm operations are a testament to their passion for sustainable, organic agriculture.

“Ward and I have always taken pride in being stewards of the land,” says Rosie. “Our farm is based on a symbiotic relationship between the sun, the land, the cattle and our family.”

They began their trek to organic by first moving to pasture-based farming. Cows are healthier on grass, and the soil is healthier with cows naturally fertilizing and tilling with their hooves. Well-managed grazing makes the pasture’s plants more numerous and diverse; those plants in turn help the soil filter and retain precious water.

Then they attended a ‘barn meeting’ given by Dr. Paul Dettloff, one of Organic Valley’s on-staff holistic veterinarians. Rosie was struck by how much the organic message spoke to her as a farmer and a mother.

“Everything that I had been trying to do for the health of my family, Doc Dettloff was doing for animal health,” says Rosie. “Health comes from good nutrition, and nutrition is a direct reflection of the soil that food is grown in. I knew intuitively from that moment that organic methods were what we wanted to develop on our farm, and Organic Valley was who we wanted to ship our milk to.”

The Burroughs family has been an Organic Valley farmer-owner since 2004.

Ward and Rosie nurtured a love of nature and a passion for improving the family farm in each of their four children. Together, Rosie and Ward and their children farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where cows dot lush, green pastures that provide an enormous amount of nutritious food.

To the north of Ward and Rosie’s home farm, their youngest son, Zeb, and his wife Meridith, manage California Cloverleaf Farms, a 720-acre organic, grass-based dairy farm where 550 organic Jersey/Holstein cows reap the benefits of organic stewardship. As the youngest son, Zeb learned from his parents and older siblings the value of family and organic, sustainable farming. 

To the south, Rosie and Ward’s eldest daughter, Christina and her husband Brian Bylsma, operate two Organic Valley dairies, Full Circle Dairy.

Rosie and Ward have two other children, Joseph and Benina. Benina’s organic and transitioning almond trees dot the eastern boundary of the family’s land.

The Burroughs family’s commitment and energy expand beyond the confines of their pastures. 

With their children, Ward and Rosie are very active in their local community and also within the organic dairy industry nationally, including the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA) and Grazers West. They have served on the board of directors and as president of the Merced/Mariposa Cattlemen’s Association, and they are active in the farmer leadership of Organic Valley.

California Cloverleaf Farms maintains a close connection with their land’s indigenous heritage through a friendship with Julia Parker, a famous Native American elder and educator who teaches at Yosemite National Park. The family has collaborated to keep alive the legacy of basket weaving by offering workshops and planting native grasses used for basketry on their property.

Rosie also helped start a project called Country Ventures, a nonprofit organization that promotes Merced County as a tourist destination focusing on art, nature, small farms, farmers markets and farm stays. And in 2005, Rosie was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to the Reclamation Board (now the Central Valley Flood Protection Board). She was also instrumental in establishing the California Levees Roundtable, a collaboration of ten federal, state and local government agencies to develop a joint solution to California’s levee crisis.

Finally (but surely not lastly for this active family), Ward and Rosie serve as farmer advisors for the California Climate and Agriculture Network, a coalition of sustainable agriculture organizations advocating for more resources to help farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change.

“The greatest resource we have is our young people,” Ward says. “We should give all our support and encouragement to keep that enthusiasm growing. They’ll improve on our improvements. And that’s the real goal: to make this place sustainable for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

“I think we’re doing it right," Ward continues. "Each year we see better herd health, cleaner water, and improved soil tilth. I was thinking the other day that this is the way my grandfather farmed in 1906, and we have come full circle, over a century later, back to the simple ways of working with nature."

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