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Bigger isn’t always better

Nash family takes a different approach to develop on-the-farm dairy business
Story and photos by Glen Liford 10/1/2021

 

Sheila and Garland Nash, along with daughter, Brandi, left, son, Tilden, right, and son, Harley, and daughter, Whitney, not pictured, have been selling cream line milk through their on-the-farm business, Nash Creamery, since December 2020.
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There were only two dairies left in Scott County, Virginia, in 2018, when the larger of the pair ceased operations. Garland and Sheila Nash of Nicklesville operated the remaining one. 


The Nash’s dairy consisted of only 30 or so milk cows. And, while their hauler offered to continue picking up their milk, the cost suddenly became prohibitive. It was the proverbial “fork in the road” for the family’s dairying journey.


“The cost was going to be extravagant,” says Sheila. “We would have been operating at a loss just paying to have the milk picked up.”


Garland and Sheila knew they only had two options — they could either quit dairying or approach their business differently. They chose to be different. 


While some producers in similar situations might have believed the only alternative for survival would be to grow their business, the Nashes, who are Southwest Virginia Farm Supply customers, embraced their identity as a small local dairy, started an on-the-farm creamery, and began selling their products locally under their own brand.


“We had talked many times about starting our own creamery,” Garland tells Rob Jones, Southwest Virginia Farm Supply salesman. “But this just forced us to take a serious look at our options.”


Garland and Sheila gathered the family and they, their four adult children, spouses, and seven grandchildren, outlined a plan to develop the creamery business. Each family member was assigned a role, and together they were determined to make the business work, says Sheila.


The couple never intended to grow their dairy into a big operation; they simply envisioned it as part of their retirement plan. The income from the endeavor, they hoped, would supplement their retirement from the Scott County School System where Garland worked as a school bus driver and Sheila as an office assistant.


The Nashes, who launched their dairy in 2002, suspended operation in 2018 to begin the process of starting the creamery. This involved building a facility at their farm where they could bottle the product and purchasing the required equipment, including a small, 30-gallon pasteurizer.


“It has turned out to be an interesting adventure,” says Garland. “We were lucky there was another creamery located in Russell County. The county [which borders Scott County] had a person who had been trained by the Virginia Department of Health to inspect and oversee the setup of the creamery and was able to help.”


It took the Nashes six months to do the research, complete the paperwork, and secure the permits to start the construction of the creamery. Then, Garland, Sheila, and their son, Tilden, required another two months to practice the pasteurization process before they were comfortable with it. By the time the facility was finished, the entire startup process had taken about 16 months. The shutdown during the pandemic allowed them to focus on developing the business. 


Today, the Nashes are proud to say they are still small producers. Their herd only numbers 12 head now, though the number has been as high as 18 since they sold their first round of milk and they began operating the creamery in December 2020. 


“We have been really surprised at how well our creamery has done,” says Garland. “It’s really taken off. We have already ordered a 100-gallon pasteurizer and are talking about expanding the building.”


The Nash Creamery products are sold in nearby country stores and a few local restaurants, and some customers drop by the farm to buy as well. 


"Our cream line milk is pasteurized, but it isn’t homogenized,” Garland explains. “Homogenizing breaks down the butterfat particles. With cream line milk, you want to shake it well before you drink it. You will see that cream line at the top, and it has a richer, sweeter taste.”


The Nashes sell their whole milk, along with specialty products like buttermilk and flavored milks — chocolate, strawberry, and creamcicle. The flavors are popular with consumers. The Nashes are testing a new flavor they hope to debut this fall, and they encourage fans to follow their Facebook page @NashCreamery for updates. 


Although they want to maintain their status as a small dairy, the Nashes are hoping to increase their volume in increments. They are planning expansions to their processing capacity if their market continues to grow.


Sheila says she was raised on the rolling hills of the dairy, and she has seen many changes in agriculture. 


“Generation to generation, farming changes,” she says. “We grew burley tobacco here when I was growing up, and mom and dad milked by hand. My grandchildren don’t know what that is like. We hope to expand enough to keep this [creamery] going for them.” 


 
 
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