On George and Cherry's gorgeous 800 acre organic farm just west of Greensboro, North Carolina, organic was not always the order of things. "We were a typical conventional operation," George says, " which means we were constantly trying to boost production, going into more debt to do that, and doing all the work for our cows." But just a few short years ago, George went on an organic farm tour, and when he came back, Cherry says, he was a changed man. "I'm sold on the idea that grazing is the backbone of the farm," George says.
Getting to that point was a slow process, George admits. Cherry and their daughter, Hayley, had been advocating for organic for years, "but when we said the word organic, he wouldn't even discuss it." George laughs at that. "I was just a typical farmer. I couldn't see doing it any other way. It did not seem possible."
For her part, Cherry didn't see how they could do anything worse than what they were doing. It really coalesced in her mind one day when a valve broke off a spray tank that had 1000 gallons of gramoxon (an organophosphate pesticide) mixed in it; the only way to stop the spill was for George to jam his hand into the hole. He was completely soaked with the stuff in the process. "I thought I was going to lose him," Cherry says. "After that, I knew that this could not go on. There had to be a better way." George adds, "After each day of spraying I'd calculate how many days I knocked off of my life. And then realized it was adding up to years."
There's no more fear on the Teague farm today. "We haven't used the nitrogen fertilizer in three years," George says, "and our pastures are just as green as the next guy's. Our soil is so much healthier, it does the work for us." For one of the biggest banes of the farm, namely flies, the Teagues use biodynamic fly control in the form of fly predators that they release periodically to control the pest species which were particularly hard on the calves. Cherry's in charge of the calving program on the farm and she can't believe the difference. "When we used to spray chemicals for fly control, I swear there used to be even more flies."
George and his Dad, who is 85, are still in partnership on the farm, so one of the most important aspects of their transition to organic has been the support of both George and Cherry's parents. "We're so fortunate that our parents are open to this and feel that we are on the right path. There hasn't been one single time that they told us we were crazy. George's Dad has always stood behind us one hundred per cent."
And considering that George has been brought to the brink of wanting to leave farming on more than one occasion, his Dad's support is very important to him. Equally important is the support of their son, Taylor, who helps out a lot on the farm. At 21, he's in college still, but he's not sure yet what he wants to do. Back when George toured those organic farms, one of the things that impressed him most about the farm families he met was that all their kids were coming back to the farm. "When we were still farming conventionally, we told our son 'whatever you do, we don't want you to come back to the farm. It's no kind of life.' Now we would be thrilled if he chose this career, because there's something to look forward to."
"Ever since we've been part of Organic Valley all the farmers and farm families we've met are so positive, supportive and sharing," Cherry says. "We have never experienced anything like that. It's a real eye-opener. We feel blessed every day for that connection." When last year the Carolinas were decimated by prolonged drought conditions and the Teagues were afraid they'd go under, they went to Organic Valley for help and got it. "In the past we were members of other kinds of co-ops and organizations," George said, "and we never got that kind of support. With Organic Valley, you're treated like what you are—one of the member-owners of the cooperative, not just another employee.
"We've said through all of this that if we went out of business tomorrow we would still live and breathe organic. It's nothing but beneficial for the earth, the cows and for us. We wouldn't go back for anything. When we see how open our children are to this lifestyle, we know they'll instill those values in their children, and that makes us really happy."