Agricultural traditions run deep in the Greenbrier Valley, but one particular farm has carved out some traditions of their own within the community and the State Fair of West Virginia.
Situated on picturesque pastureland in Frankford, WV, and owned by the Perkins family, Perk Farm’s roots date back to 1942. From the farm’s beginnings until now, the farm has evolved as the Perkins family has weathered the ebb and flow of the dairy industry and become a pioneer as the first organic dairy farm in the state.
Third generation farmer Rem Perkins realized that conventional methods were too unstable to support the continuation of the farm, and he decided to take a major leap in 2009 after attending a luncheon and learning about organic farming.
The move to organic methods was the best move that Perkins could have ever made, and they now supply their milk to the Organic Valley farmer cooperative which also runs under the name of Stonyfield Organic, and their products can be purchased in several local establishments.
After the shift to go organic, the dairy farm began to thrive and developed into an operation that now supports its fourth generation in farming.
Perkins’ daughter, Lauren Perkins, had long been involved in her father’s farm, but now she has stepped into a larger role to run the dairy. She recalls that after only one year into their transition to organic farming, they began to see drastic improvements in every aspect of the farm.
“The health of the cows dramatically changed. The land was healthier, the bugs were flourishing,” she noted.
Under the previous farming methods, they had been taught that bugs and weeds were bad, and so the land had been sprayed with pesticides and cows had to be treated with conventional medicines.
After delving headfirst into the education of organic methods, they began to see things from a different perspective and made their goal to be good stewards of the land.
They learned that grazing in biodiverse pastureland provided natural remedies for the cows, learning, for instance, that chicory is a natural de-wormer.
Lauren Perkins recalled that when the beneficial bugs were allowed to re-establish, they began eating the harmful pests that had previously been destroying their crops and feed.
The biodiversity regenerated the soil with earthworms and nutrients, and the effects trickled down to every inch of the dairy operation.
“There’s so much that can come out of the land,” she stated. “If we pay attention to what the land is telling us, it’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
Rem Perkins reiterated his daughter’s statements, adding, “We’re trying to mimic mother nature as much as we can and work with her instead of against her.”
Perk Farm’s journey into agricultural education came at another pivotal time for the farm’s history.
Their story became even more entwined with the State Fair of West Virginia as they shifted their role from the realm of competition to that of education.
They were approached about facilitating an interactive farm experience for thousands of visitors as part of the fair’s initiatives to maintain its agricultural roots. From that idea, the Dairy Birthing Center was born, and Perk Farm has been spearheading this program for over 10 years with the sponsorship of Farm Credit.
“This experience has created a whole new atmosphere for us,” said Lauren Perkins as she described the farm’s changes to accommodate their new role.
One of the biggest changes was having to add a third breeding season so that they could provide cows that would be due to deliver in August for the fair’s live exhibit.
Through the Dairy Birthing Center, fairgoers can catch a rare glimpse into the birthing process that happens on many West Virginia farms – a process that the majority of non-farming families ever get to witness.
It is Perk Farm’s hope to provide education to the masses so that they may inspire future generations to have a love and appreciation for the agricultural field – and for the products that they consume that are created through the hard work of West Virginia’s farmers.
“With so many few dairies left, we’re happy to be a part of that and to show people what we’re doing,” added Lauren Perkins.
Rem Perkins is almost always present at the exhibit to answer any questions that visitors may have and to share his experience in the organic dairy industry.
His wealth of knowledge comes from a background in dairy science from Virginia Tech, as well as knowledge acquired through decades of hands-on experience.
The only question that cannot be answered is which cow will be next to give birth and when it will happen.
Just like humans, we can never know exactly when birth will take place with cows, and there may be surprises along the way.
Overall, Perk Farm is there to explain the entire process so that spectators can have a better understanding of the life cycle and its role in the dairy industry, from birth until the final product.
“We’re really glad to have Farm Credit sponsor the Birthing Center. Their support makes all the difference in us being able to host this” noted Lauren Perkins.
Through their continued sponsorship, the Perkins family can continue their traditions at The State Fair of West Virginia for years to come and hopefully become a part of the family traditions of the thousands of people that eagerly make their way to the Dairy Birthing Center every year.
Fairgoers can visit this live exhibit throughout the duration of the fair in hopes of witnessing the birth of a newborn. For an even more interactive experience, individuals of all ages can get their picture taken with newborn calves and even purchase a sweet sorghum treat to feed the cows.
The Dairy Birthing Center is located near the 219 North gate entrance, and announcements are frequently made over the loudspeaker system so that visitors will know when a cow is beginning to give birth and when a calf has been born.
|The Perkins family at the State Fair of West Virginia|
|A newborn calf nurses on its mother at the Dairy Birthing Center|