The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is celebrating 20 years of its Century Farm program, which honors farms run by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years.
Farmers we spoke with say staying open for such a long time has a lot to do with staying current. Cave Hill Dairy Farm in Botetourt County first opened more than 200 years ago as a beef and tobacco farm in the late 1700s and now produces milk.
“When we’ve made improvements or expansions, we’ve done it very slowly,” explained Jeff Henderson, co-owner and partner. “We haven’t taken on too much at one time, and we’ve all stayed here, and we’ve all worked.”
Now, a sixth generation will continue that work.
“I want to go into agriculture,” said Courtney Henderson, Jeff’s daughter. “I want to take over the farm. I want to continue the legacy that my great-great-grandfather started.”
Courtney studies in the agriculture college at Virginia Tech. She said she is feeling good about the farm’s future but is also nervous. Milk prices are not rising as quickly as operating costs, she said, so the family is looking at ways to cut expenses.
For example, Courtney Henderson said, someday the cows may be milked by robots instead of people.
“We can’t stay here if we don’t try to come into the 21st century more than we already are,” she said.
Another challenge the farm faces is urban encroachment. Development has changed the soil, Jeff Henderson said, and has made it difficult for farming equipment to get around.
But the Hendersons said they hope the growing community will help bring more visitors to the farm.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned in school is not to have a closed mind,” Courtney Henderson said. “Be open to different opportunities and different ways farmers are doing it.”
Cave Hill Dairy Farm already hosts field trips for students and community groups, Courtney Henderson said. They are also considering other opportunities to bring more people to the farm, she added.