Hometown: Marion, NC
Size of Operation: 75 head
Years in Business: 80+
Years Working with Farm Credit: 45
Just outside of Marion, NC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there’s a small farm store that sells locally produced cheese and other items from local artisans.
The English family can trace their history on the property back to 1793, when the government was issuing land grants to help populate the remote mountain regions of North Carolina.
Ed English and his wife Maggie started the family farm and made their first dairy shipment on Jun 6, 1927. A small store was also set up where they sold milk, sour cream, butter, and eggs. The dairy has been in operation ever since.
Today, Terry and Susan English operate the 6th generation farm that is currently home to 75 Holstein cows. “With our physical location, terrain, and how our farm is laid out, we felt like 75 was a prime number for us” says Terry. “Any more or less wasn’t going to be profitable.”
Cheese was not always in the plans. Three years ago volatile milk prices and increasing operating costs forced the English’s to explore their options. Their thoughts quickly turned to value added products, the family’s cheeses had always been a hit with neighbors and friends so the family decided to begin selling cheese to the public.
Taking the step from hobbyist to full time cheese maker wasn’t easy for Susan. She had reservations about financing the operation. “The bank just didn’t get it; they didn’t understand the vision and the purpose; the passion to keep the farm going and to keep the family here.”
“Carolina Farm Credit listened to our idea and didn’t shrug us off like we were a bunch of nuts that just fell out of the tree.” ~ Terry English
With the help of Carolina Farm Credit, the family was able to take their idea, put it into motion, and build their business. The farm store and cheese making facility were constructed and a 135 gallon pasteurizing tank was custom built and delivered by fellow cheesemakers in Wisconsin. Susan jokes that she didn’t resign from her position as a nurse until the equipment was unloaded on their farm for fear of it being damaged in transit.
Starting out, the business relied solely on visitors to their retail store. It wasn’t long though, before wholesale orders began to come in as well. Today, the wholesale market helps to stabilize the business during the tourist off-season.
The “farmstead” name indicates that all the cheeses are made from milk produced on the farm. About ten percent of the farm’s total milk production is used in making cheese. The milk travels from the milking parlor to holding tanks at the farm store, where it is then pasteurized and turned into cheese. Production time depends largely on the type of cheese being made. Some cheeses can be made in a single day, others take longer.
If one thing is to be taken away from the English’s, it is the pride that they have in their work. “We get to wake up and do what we love every day, we’re a pretty stubborn bunch; we have no plans to stop.” Terry says with a smile.
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