Normally, the amount of acreage they are able to graze would be sufficient to feed their herd most months of the year, but the summer of '07 brought extended drought to the Carolinas. Without irrigation, the Parkers watched their beautiful green pastures burn to cinders before their eyes, destroying, too, the forages that are cut for winter silage and hay. Spring of '08 was looking good, but the rains tapered off and the crops are suffering. "We're already supplementing with feed we'd laid up for winter," Rick says. "I may have to reduce the herd again." Meanwhile, the Parkers pray for rain.
In spite of the instabilities of their profession, Rick and Dorcas are totally upbeat. They have 6 children to be thankful for, the oldest of whom is stationed presently in Iraq. "We talk to him every week and he lets us know that everything's okay. We know he's doing something he's proud of." Four of the six children are grown and out on their own, but "we still have two and a half here on the farm," Dorcas says. They count twenty-one year-old Brittany as "half" since she's back and forth from college a lot, where she's finishing her degree in environmental education. "Her decision to major in that field was a direct result of our shift to organic," Rick says. "She is passionate about farming. This is where she wants to be."
When Rick was growing up, he always knew he wanted to be involved in agriculture. He started out at North Carolina State University in the pre-vet program but switched his major to Ag Engineering and Technology. After graduation, he came back to the farm and worked with his Dad. His Dad retired in '97 and left everything up to Rick. When it came to the decision to go organic, both Rick's and Dorcas' parents were very supportive. "They just want to see us succeed," Dorcas says.
Rick feels that joining the Organic Valley cooperative will help to ensure their success. Still, even that wasn't an easy decision to make given they'd had negative experiences with other co-ops. "One thing about Organic Valley that enticed me was that the amount of milk they buy is in accordance with the amount of milk they know they can sell. Other co-ops just buy all the milk they can which only ends up decreasing the pay price to their members. That's just shooting yourself in the foot. The other thing I liked about the co-op is that you're an owner, too, and you have a say in the process. Folks who work there are farmers, just like us."
"Given the way the business was going while our kids were growing up," Rick says, "we kind of pushed them to get educated in other fields. Now we feel hopeful that things will work out here, so we're trying to make room for the whole clan."