Where It All Began...
The Atkinsons circa 1981
The Founders of Greenwood Farms in 2003.
Two of our chickens in the fall.
Crystal - One of our Junior Jerseys
The Barn in Winter
Steve's Son, Rob
Rob's Wife, Sine
Rob & Sine's daughter, Ava
The name for GREENWOOD FARMS comes from a passage in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return of the King:" "
. . . . and they passed onto a long green lawn, glowing in the sunshine, bordered by stately dark-leaved trees. . . a stream ran down before them between flowering banks until they came to a greenwood at the lawn’s foot. On the lawn where they now stood a great host was drawn up. . . . and as the Hobbits approached swords were unsheathed and horns and trumpets sang. And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of a minstrel rose like silver and gold. . . . and he sang to them until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed. . . . and they passed in thought out into regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness..." This is our vision for Greenwood Farms: to be a place where all life is revered, where the joy of following our bliss mingles with the pain of loving deeply, where "tears are the very wine of blessedness."
GREENWOOD FARMS began in 1981, in our family kitchen, with this simple plaque, created by Julie and David, that says, "Find the Greenwood, Find the Dream." In those days, the dream was that of a young family that wanted to return to a simpler way of life.
We sold our house in town and moved to a little farm in Dent County, not far from the town of Salem, Missouri. With us we brought three Suffolk Draft horses, a yellow Labrador named Michael, and a Great Pyrenees named Rebecca. It was an embarrassment of riches and the beginning of our journey with the land. In the course of the next eight years, we all came to love working with animals and living close to the land.
In addition to the horses, we shared our lives with many wonderful animals: Julie's flock of Buff Orpington and Light Brahma chickens, Rouen ducks, Toulouse geese, Duroc and Hampshire pigs, a variety of mixed-breed beef cattle, and our prize herd of 26 Jersey cows.
Back then, the dairy was called Holly's Jerseys and it was Holly that did the bulk of the milking. Her Jersey cows won awards for high milk production and her dairy received a commendation for its superior cleanliness. We sold the milk on the commodity market and even during the lean times in the mid-1980s, we managed to do pretty well.
In 1989, our dream was put on hold for a while. Both Julie and David were going off to college and those costs, along with the loss of their helping hands, made it clear that keeping the farm just wasn't practical. It was terribly hard to let go of our life on the old farm, but time moves on and we had to move as well.
In 2003, an amazing thing happened: We decided to farm once again. Steve and Holly lived on 275 acres of wild land south of Rolla and as retirement age approached, they yearned to get back to basics - a horse or two, a cow, maybe a few chickens. It was going to be a small enterprise, but then they told the kids! Julie and David, along with David's wife Kindra, had worked in the corporate world for ten years after college and all three were looking for a better way of life. Steve proposed a radical notion: What if we gave farming another try - this time as a business?
The Slow Food movement was just beginning and we though by niche-marketing chemical-free, humanely raised foods, perhaps we could all come back home to the life we loved. It worked! Using the business savvy learned in building one of the most successful dental practices in the country, Steve (aka Dr. Atkinson) and Holly set to work building their next success: Greenwood Farms, LLC.
David, Julie, and Kindra put their skills to work too: David used his lifelong interest in all things mechanical to select and repair the farm equipment needed to start the farm; Kindra took her knowledge of accounting and set up our bookkeeping system, and Julie devoted her artistic skills to designing the Greenwood Farms website, brochures, and ads to promote the farm. Together, we researched the art of grass-based farming - attending "grazing schools" across the country to learn how to select the right grass, effectively rotate pastures, and choose the right breeds of livestock for the type of farming we wanted to do.
Over the next few years, we experimented with various breeds of beef cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry to see what types produced the best meat. We began attending farmer's markets to see what people wanted to buy and we quickly learned that our customer-base was to be found in larger metropolitan areas, especially St. Louis. As the public became better educated about the values of locally raised, grass-based meats, the demand for our products grew and encouraged us to keep going - and to keep trying new things.
In 2006, we decided to add dairy products to our list of offerings and Piney River Jerseys was born. We started with two cows, milked in a spotlessly clean, but very small dairy-room at our barn. Our raw milk sold like hotcakes and in the spring of 2008, we began construction of a state-of-the-art dairy barn and bottling plant. The building was completed in the fall of that year and we became the first state inspected, Grade A Raw Milk dairy in the state. We now milk 12 cows twice daily and bottle the milk right here on the farm. St. Louis continues to be our best sales venue, with weekly milk sales of more than 150 gallons becoming the norm.
The dream is alive and well on Greenwood Farms today and our family has gotten bigger! In 2011 we reconnected with Steve's son and daughter from his first marriage. It was a joyful reunion for everyone and we were thrilled when Rob, his wife Sine, & their infant daughter Ava joined us here on the farm.
In these difficult economic times, we know our future is uncertain. Costs are high and even though we can ask more for our wonderful products, its tough to make ends meet. Whatever the future holds, we are honored to have had the privilege of serving so many wonderful customers in the pursuit of our dream.
Hanging on the wall in the kitchen of our home on the present-day Greenwood Farms is the same plaque Julie and David made so many years ago. "Find the Greenwood, Find the Dream.: It reminds us that our farm is more than just the work we do - it is a place to nurture each other and the land we hold so dear.