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Hanover County’s last remaining dairy farm to diversify operation with new creamery

Hanover County’s last remaining dairy farm to diversify operation with new creamery

ASHLAND—In a rapidly urbanizing area of Central Virginia, one dairy-farming family is taking the opportunity to tell their agriculture story and connect with consumers directly, by appealing to their palates.

Thomas E. Stanley & Sons Dairy, Hanover County’s last remaining dairy, recently hosted a “Cow to Cone” class for Randolph-Macon College students.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get this generation out on a farm,” said Missy Stanley, who led the class. “I gave them a dairy tour, we talked about the benefits of milk, and we ate ice cream. Many of them have never stepped foot on a farm, and they asked a lot of great questions.”

Her husband’s grandfather bought the dairy from an aunt in 1941. The family has operated it ever since.

“It’s been a dream of ours to open a creamery for decades,” Stanley continued. Beyond diversifying their farm operation, a creamery is an investment in the family’s future. “Upcoming generations are probably less interested in running a traditional dairy farm but may be more interested in the creamery side of the business.”

This foresight comes from years of economic hardship for family dairy farms. There were around 650 Grade A dairy farms in Virginia in 2017. Now 475 remain after many years of depressed prices forced closures.

The U.S. has lost more than half of its licensed dairy operations since 2003, down to 32,000 dairy operations, according to a 2020 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The Stanleys’ value-added venture, called Farmview Creamery, will start with purchased ice cream mix but eventually will transition to on-site milk production. They were awarded a Southeast Dairy Business Innovation Initiative grant to fund a feasibility study, with application assistance from the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

“VA FAIRS helped me with the application,” Stanley said. “I didn’t even know where to get a feasibility study on a dairy, but they did, which has been so helpful.”

Whitney Perkins, VA FAIRS assistant director, acknowledged it can be overwhelming to know where to begin when planning to diversify.

“But that’s why VA FAIRS is here to help farmers start and expand into value-added, high-value agriculture enterprises—where they are in the driver’s seat,” she said. “There are abundant opportunities, but that often comes with a lot of overwhelming information. I see our role as helping to navigate this unfamiliar world and helping families breathe new life into their businesses.”

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Media: Contact Stanley at 804-386-6004 or Perkins at 804-290-1155.