Mary L. Farm is a little piece of North Carolina’s past: expansive farm land, animals, and a family dedicated to doing the work of tending to the land the right way. Today, Mary L. stands as a fifth generation, 165-acre certified-organic dairy farm. Owners Rick and Dorcas Parker shifted to organic despite a changing industry that still favors mass-production and GMO farming. They believe that “food is much more than a commodity,” and have done the work by choosing quality over speed, quantity, and a quick buck.
Rick and Dorcas grew up in rural Mount Ulla, North Carolina five miles from each other. Rick worked on the family dairy farm that his father, Maurice, and grandfather, William, began when his father was a teenager. Maurice, as Rick described, was not exactly the romantic type, and he would buy farm equipment for his wife, Mary’s, birthday or their anniversary.
“One time it was an axe and an alarm clock,” Rick recalls. “Once it was a manure spreader. And one time it was an old yellow gas truck with a placard under the front bumper.” To individualize the gift for his wife, Maurice decided to print Mary’s name, Mary Lee, over the placard, but “the store had no e’s, so the placard simply stated MARY L. My older brother and his friends began painting old rust pieces of equipment each emblazoned with ‘Mary L. Farm.’” Rick and Dorcas, as a couple, took over the family farm after Rick’s father retired in 1989.
“With the shift we saw the average age of dairy cows fall, more grain fed with less grass, more antibiotics, and profits in the red,” they explain. “We also saw a push back against larger, more distant agriculture… We saw people passionate about where and how their food was produced.”
Rick and Dorcas responded to this passion and received their organic certification for dairy in 2006 and for beef, poultry, and crops the following year. The work on Mary L. Farm requires the whole family: Rick, Dorcas, and their six children. But even after the chickens are fed, the cows milked, the eggs gathered, and the cows let out to pasture, there’s even larger issues outside of the daily farm operations. The United States’ agricultural practices of overproduction, grain subsidization, and corporatization (e.g., Monsanto) are steadily destroying family farms’ chances at what was once a viable way of life.
Mary L. Farm is working with Carolina Farm Trust, an organization that preserves North Carolina farmland, to raise enough money to pay their bank loan. Carolina Farm Trust is working to raise enough money to save the state’s first certified-organic farm and preserve their land for generations to come.
Mary L. Farm sells their milk to Organic Valley and has a permanent vendor spot in Atherton Market in Southend. Working with Atherton Market provides them the opportunity to talk with people about the story behind their food and the health benefits of eating organic proteins and dairy.
Visit Atherton Mill at 2000 South Boulevard or CarolinaFarmTrust.org for more information.