Brown Family Dairy
Photographs by Simone
Photographs By Lana Ferguson
Soundscapes, Landscapes, Labor & Land
In June of 2009, the Brown Family added a small dairy to their beef cattle business. Billy Ray’s grandfather was a cattlemen and Bill Ray bought his first cow, Daisy, at the age of 13. The idea for the dairy came to him one evening while shopping in Kroger. He noticed that the organic milk sold in the supermarket came all the way from Colorado, and thought to himself, we have grass and cows right here in Oxford. He considered the prospect, but received negative reactions when he shared the idea with others. Still, he decided to move forward with the concept and opened a small processing and bottling facility on 60 acres of land where the dairy cows, jerseys and brahmans, graze. In addition to the dairy, the family also produces pork products, which are available in local restaurants and markets.
When my student, Lana, suggested we interview Billy Ray and Paula Brown, owners of the Brown Family Diary, for The Invisible Oxford Project I immediately agreed. My students expressed an interest in the farm to table movement, and the Brown Family Dairy produced and bottled their dairy cow’s milk on site and delivered it to the local Farmer’s Market Store on Highway 7 North and several Oxford establishments, sometimes having the milk on the shelves the very same day. We started by watching the following documentary shorts to learn more about the milking and bottling processes, and visited the farm for a site visit and informal interview with the couple.
From Billy Ray and Paula we learned about the challenges of running a small, family-owned dairy. If one family member is sick, everyone is impacted. The work isn't easy either, and finding individuals willing to do the required labor is a challenge. On some farms the labor shortage is being filled by incoming Latino workers, temporary laborers who are newcomers to the area. This topic was of particular interest to me. We talked about the sweet potato industry and the larger dairies that rely on Latino labor: “And the big dairies now, it’s all. I’ll tell you this, on a big dairy if you can’t speak Spanish you can't get the job managing it cause it’s all Hispanic labor cause those are the only people they can get to. It’s huge. The dairy is all Hispanic labor. Big dairies. Yeah.” “And that’s a shift you’ve seen more recently,” we asked. “In the last 10 years probably. Yeah. We have sweet potato industry here. Alright. Have you ever seen the sweet potatoes? You can ask her [referencing Lana, who has done research on Latino workers in a nearby town], it’s all Hispanic labor. You cannot get Americans. I’m telling you, to pick up potatoes the way these guys do." As our conversation continued we discussed the changes to Oxford, MS, particularly the escalating price of land; construction and growth; and the impact on local families and farms.