Commissioner: Halifax County Farm Reflects Future of Va. Ag

11/3/2012 7:00 AM
By Rocky Womack Virginia Correspondent

HALIFAX, Va. — Lisa and Doug Bowen were no strangers to rural living. The Halifax County, Va., couple grew up in rural southeastern Ohio. After 20-year careers in the Marines, they were ready to return to their country roots.

On Oct. 19, the couple held the grand opening of a country farm operation, called Country Charm Farm LLC, in Halifax County. Held in front of their farm store, the event gave the Bowens a chance to open up their hearts and years of hard work to those in attendance, including Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Matthew Lohr.

The new operation raises and breeds registered dairy goats and runs a licensed cheese room and country store. The owners also breed Turkish guardian dogs such as the ones who guard the two Country Charm flocks, one of does and one of bucks.

“When you think about the future of agriculture, the reason we’ve been able to adapt and change is because of the spirit of innovation,” Lohr said.

“I’m a fifth-generation farmer,” he said. “Back in the Shenandoah Valley, every generation before me has done things in a different way, and that’s what has enabled our farm to grow. That’s what has enabled all of Virginia agriculture to grow and succeed is by thinking outside of the box, not just relying on things we’ve always done, looking at things with a brand new perspective and trying these new opportunities even if sometimes it may seem a little unconventional or may seem like it may not work.”

Lohr added that the Bowens have taken an idea and built on a dream by simply thinking outside of the box or a little differently than most people.

“I want to say congratulations again for your hard work and your spirit,” he said. “We wish you the best, and it’s an honor for our agency to be able to partner with you and help make this day a reality.”

When they began farming, Doug and Lisa started raising registered Nigerian dwarf goats. They drank the milk, and Lisa began making goat soap.

“We could only drink so much milk,” Doug said. “Her soap was a big hit with a lot of folks, so she started Country Charm Soap Co. and started selling that. We still do that, but you can only sell and make so much soap, so she began looking for other ways to use the milk. The next logical step I guess was the cheese making.”

Lisa started attending classes at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and visited successful cheese-making operations, mostly in North Carolina. Next, she began experimenting with her own recipes, “and she was quite good at it,” Doug said.

“The cheese was quite good, but she couldn’t sell the cheese because we weren’t a certified dairy,” he said. “If we couldn’t sell it, where were we going to do that? So obtaining a dairy certification became the next logical step. This building became the logical site for the cheese kitchen. We got our certification as a Grade B dairy, so Lisa started using the extra milk to make goat milk cheese. She got rather creative at that.”

Besides selling goat soap and cheese in the Country Charm Farm store, the Bowens have partnered with other vendors or artists to sell their wares.

Doug, who also serves as a minister at a local church in South Boston, Va., manages the goat herd. Lisa makes the soap and cheese, and she offers classes on how to make goat milk soap and cheese.

Lohr said the Bowens’ agriculture venture signifies a diverse family operation “because it really highlights exactly the future of where Virginia agriculture is going. We’re still going to have a need for large-scale agriculture. That’s not going to go away, but it’s exciting to see many of these innovative and creative operations that are flourishing all across the Commonwealth of Virginia, especially here in Southside Virginia.”

He compares the Bowens and other innovative farmers to long-time runner Roger Bannister. From the 1870s to the 1950s, no runner had run the mile in under four minutes, and doctors swore that it was “humanly, physically impossible,” Lohr said. They thought running at such a fast speed would cause a runner’s heart to explode. Bannister proved them wrong.

“I did some research on Roger Bannister,” Lohr said, “and it was fascinating that it took 75 years before the first man was able to run a four-minute mile. I was curious how long it took before the second person ran a four-minute mile. I was amazed to see that it only took 49 days before it happened again. In fact, throughout the rest of the year in 1954, there were seven other runners that all ran a four-minute mile in that one year alone. Three of them even did it in one single race. Today, there have been 3,500 runners in the world that have all run a four-minute mile.”

Lohr said the only thing that changed, from when no one could run the four-minute mile to many doing it, was the belief in their heads that they could accomplish it.

The Bowens know in their heads that they can achieve their dream of being successful farmers while serving others. Lohr said that is the spirit of agriculture.

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