Richlands Dairy breaks ground on million-dollar expansion of family farm

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Apr. 1, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – “This is a special day if you’re an ice cream lover.”

Those were the jovial words of Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dr. Mark Moore as he and dozens of others were all smiles on the grounds of Richlands Dairy as the longtime family farm ceremonially broke ground on their new creamery that will not only create delicious ice cream, but also serve to create 17 new jobs in the county.

The announcement was made about an hour before the groundbreaking by Governor Ralph Northam who shared that Richlands Dairy will be investing $1.7 million as part of the development of the new commercial creamery and that the family-run dairy farm was the recipient of a $40,000 Virginia Tobacco Commission grant and a $20,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund to help get their creamery operations underway.

“I am pleased to announce that Richlands Creamery will soon begin operations in Dinwiddie County, demonstrating the hard work and innovation of Virginia’s farmers and further strengthening our rural economy,” Governor Northam said. “Supporting entrepreneurs with unique business models is another way for Virginia to grow and diversify our economy.  My administration will continue to work to create new opportunities for families in every corner of Virginia.”

There were plenty of smiles on hand at the Jones family farm as they broke ground on the new million-dollar expansion to their operations at Richlands Dairy Farm.
(Michael Campbell / The Dinwiddie Monitor)

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, known as The Tobacco Commission for short, is a 28-member body created by the 1999 General Assembly whose mission is to promote economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement. Since its creation, the commission has awarded over 200 grants totaling over $1.1 billion across the tobacco region, which includes Dinwiddie County.

The grant received by Richlands Dairy, the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund provides performance-based monetary grants and loans to localities in Virginia’s tobacco producing region to assist in the creation of new jobs and investments, whether through new business attraction or existing business expansion.

“The TROF program is designed to support the goal of the Commission to ‘develop a diverse economy in Southern and Southwest Virginia,'” officials with the commission said. “This goal is measured by job creation, workforce participation rate, wealth, diversity of economy, and taxable assets. All measurements listed are increased when a new or expanding business in the tobacco region creates new jobs that pay more than prevailing wage and adds taxable assets to the local tax rolls.”

At last week’s announcement, generations of the Jones family were seated around the tent as the special announcement was made on land that has been in their family for decades joined by members of the local and state government, including Senator Frank Ruff and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, among others.

“This investment by Richlands Creamery is great news for Dinwiddie County and the Commonwealth as it creates a new market for local milk and an important new agritourism destination that will draw visitors to the region,” she said as members of the Jones family, friends and neighbors listened on.  “I am thrilled to partner with Dinwiddie County and the Virginia Tobacco Commission to help make this project a reality. This shows how working together, we can strengthen our economy to attract new jobs and investment to Virginia.”

Members of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors, state leaders joined Richlands Creamery President Coley Jones Drinkwater in breaking ground on their new creamery operation last week.
(Michael Campbell / The Dinwiddie Monitor)

From rural parts of Virginia and now representing them in Richmond as a state senator, Ruff was not only pleased about the announcement and the planned expansion at Richlands Dairy but also for the fact that the Jones family was the recipient of an AFID grant, which is a “discretionary, performance-based economic development incentive specifically for agriculture and forestry value-added or processing projects,” such as the creamery that will soon find its home at Richlands Dairy, using 100 percent of its agricultural inputs from Virginia farmers.

“This project has all the elements of what this grant’s goals are,” he said. “It’s an ability for them to maintain and grow this operation, meaning they will hire more people, be it truck drivers or people selling the product. There are so many positive things that will be happening here.”

Following the groundbreaking, dozens lined up to sample the ice cream, offering those a sweet and cool treat on the mild spring day. Among those enjoying some of the farm’s wares was Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill, who praised the Jones’ for what they have contributed to the county’s rich agricultural history and reflected on the importance of the announcement at the family farm.

“Dinwiddie is so proud of its agricultural history and background and, just like this company, their ability to reinvent what they do here agriculturally, we think this is going to be a tremendous benefit not only to our citizens and our residents from an agritourism perspective but also for the region, to be able to have a supplier and a creamery that is going to provide some wonderful products around the region,” Massengill remarked.

Richlands Creamery President Coley Jones Drinkwater spoke to that reinvention, saying the AFID grant will ” allow us to build a milk processing facility with a retail storefront to bottle and direct market milk and the best tasting ice cream in Virginia.”

She continued, “This, in turn, will keep us from joining the mass exodus of dairy farms across the United States and preserve rural Virginia for all Commonwealth residents and visitors to enjoy during our various agritourism events throughout the year.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of licensed dairy farms fell four percent in 2016 to just over 41,800 in the United States. Their data also shows that average herd size rests around 225, up about 10 cows from 2015. Industry publication Farm Journal and Milk Magazine report that the rate of decline in American dairy farms has been around three-to-four percent over the past several years, citing the average age of dairy farmers increasing and retirements as some of the contributing factors.

They go on to note that no state saw increases in the number of dairy farms and data shows Wisconsin and New York saw the largest decline in overall farm numbers.

According to the family, they milk over 200 cows, twice a day at Richlands Dairy. Some of those very cows were not far away as the historic expansion announcement was made.
(Michael Campbell / The Dinwiddie Monitor)

As Richlands Dairy adjusts to the changing tides in dairy farming by adding a new dynamic to their business, Delegate Lashrecse Aird offered words of support for the Jones family as they embark on their new endeavor.

“The citizens of central Virginia are extremely fortunate to have Richlands Dairy in the 63rd District,” she remarked. “Now with the Dairy’s expansion to include Richlands Creamery, LLC, other young farmers, and entrepreneurs can build on the promise of innovation that will grow the rural industry in the 21st century.”

“Coley Jones Drinkwater should be commended as a woman for having the vision and drive to take a five-generation family agribusiness to the next level,” the state delegate continued.

Dr. Mark Moore, Chairman of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors summed up Monday’s announcement best, remarking, “Richlands Dairy embodies the heart and soul of Dinwiddie County.”

“It’s agricultural foundation and family-oriented operation enriches the lives of Dinwiddie citizens and those in Nottoway County as well,” he remarked. “We are excited about their expansion and look forward to being home to Richlands Creamery.”

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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