The sun hasn’t risen when the workday begins at Marshall Farms, an organic dairy farm about 40 miles northeast of Charlottesville near the tiny Orange County community of Unionville. By 4:30am, the herd has made its way in from the verdant rolling pastures and the first eager bovine has entered the milking line. Over the next four hours, thousands of gallons of fresh milk will be collected before the 450 cows are returned to pasture after chowing down on supplemental organic feed. They’re back again at 4:30pm to repeat the process.
The milking’s been going on like clockwork since the farm was founded in 1979 by Jay Marshall, a longtime milk hauler, and his two sons Keith and Chris. Marshall Farms went organic in 2008, a rigorous process that requires frequent inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and mounds of paperwork on top of the endless day-to-day work of caring for animals, and growing organic crops to feed them.
“It’s 24/7. You’re always on call,” says Deanne Marshall, who is married to Keith and serves as the farm’s bookkeeper.
Exhausting as the work may be, Marshall says she and her family have no desire to get out of the business. “To work with animals and the land is such a great feeling,” she says. “And it’s rewarding to create a product that’s so essential.”