"You know," Rick says, "most people are two generations removed from any knowledge of farming." Rick and Dorcas Parker are doing something about that. For the past 20 years, area schoolchildren have come to the farm for tours. It's a tradition that was begun by Rick's Mom and Dad. "These children have never seen a cow much less touched one," Dorcas says. "They have no idea where milk comes from. We take them on hayrides and let them feed the calves." Dorcas keeps miniature sheep on the farm, too, and that's something the kids really love. Though she confesses to being nervous in her capacity as tour guide, Rick says she's fantastic. "Her passion for the animals and for the farm really comes out when she's working with the kids." And so the Parkers work at keeping people in touch with the land, one child at time.
As 4th generation family farmers, their mission couldn't be more important. They had reached a crisis a couple of years ago, Dorcas says. "We were about to hang it up." They had heard about organic—their area of North Carolina is a hotbed for the local and organic food movement—"and we were interested but didn't know how to do it or even if it could be done," Rick says. They attended several meetings held by Organic Valley farmers and talked to co-op representatives. "Bottom line was we were either going to get totally out of farming or we were going to go organic," Rick says. "The farm's been here a long time and I would hate to see it not be a farm any more. Our children will be the 5th generation on this land."
Though many farmers face difficulties when transitioning from conventional to organic, the Parkers were able to transition fairly quickly. The hardest part of the decision for them was the fact that they had to sell the milking herd and start over with transitioned heifers. Downsizing the herd went against the grain of an agricultural model that is bent on upsizing and production. Other than that hurdle, the 500 acres was predominantly pasture already and could be certified quickly. Rick began grazing his milk cows as well as the heifers.