Five years ago, when Billy Ray Brown brought local dairy farming back to North Mississippi, no one in the state knew what to make of the idea.
“It was very scary because nobody had tried it around here,” he said.
For farmer Brown, it was a vision he believed in from the beginning and hoped that others would also see the potential.
“For whatever reason, I just believed it would work,” he said, “especially in this time, with more folks looking to buy local food. And there was nobody doing dairy.”
Brown attributes a great deal of his determination to his strong willed parents, such as his late father Larry Brown, a famous writer from Yocona.
“(My father) was not going to quit until he did what he wanted to,” he said. “Luckily, it worked out for him, and he was happy doing what he finally wanted to do. I feel the same way.”
It took the Browns a full year to get the operation going, and since then, it has truly became a family affair.
“We’ve done spelling words out here, and math, and everything else out here while bottling, but we’re together,” said Paula Brown, Billy Ray’s wife,
For the Brown family, there is no woman behind the man. Paula is rightly by his side for every part of their venture, including raising three children.
“This is absolutely, 100 percent, a family-operated farm,” Billy Ray said. “I could not do this without my wife.”
Amidst the flurry of milking the cows, unloading the truck and bottling the milk, is the family dynamic in action.
Molly, 12, is the Browns’ oldest daughter, and she is confident in her role as leader among her younger siblings, Sarah, 10, and Harris, 8.
There’s self-assuredness in the way the children handle themselves, a product of the autonomous environment they’ve grown up in. The trait you can’t help but notice is a Brown family trademark, and it has pushed Billy Ray and Paula to create the kind of life for themselves and their children that they’ve always wanted.
“I’m most proud that I can be at home, I can be with my kids,” Paula said. “We have struggled, and we have sacrificed a lot (for that).”
It’s a risk that has paid off, as their business continues to grow exponentially. Going from four cows to their current 26-member herd.
“I’m not saying I want to milk 150,” Billy Ray said. “I just want to grow with the market.”
Billy Ray attributes the family’s accomplishments to the people who come to the Hernando Farmer’s Market.
“There are people in Hernando, who have not missed a Saturday in four years. Not one,” Billy Ray said. “Some of these faces I have seen every day out there for four years. It’s amazing how loyal these people are, how they come out and support you.”
The Brown Family Dairy does minimal advertising and instead relies on promotion by word of mouth.
“We continue to run out of milk in Hernando,” he said. “We’ve tried to ramp up. We’ve bought some more cattle. We try to adapt as the market demands.”
The Browns have even inspired a local documentary, Mississippi Milk, shown in high schools throughout the region.
“I got a ticket in DeSoto County by a sheriff’s deputy,” he said. “Our tag was expired on our milk truck. She wrote us the ticket, and she was real polite. But before she left, she says ‘Mr. Brown, I know you don’t know me, but I get your milk. I just want to tell you what a difference you’ve made in our community before I hand you this ticket’.”
For the Browns, the sense of community and interacting with their customers is the most rewarding aspect.
“We couldn’t ask for anymore success,” Paula said. “We’re very blessed and honored at the support we’ve gotten here from the Oxford community and in Hernando.”
They hope to take that success to the next generation, but they’re adamant that they want their kids to pick their own future.
“We’ve talked about it,” Paula said. “We’re going to make them take a job off the farm so they can see what it’s like away versus here, and figure out what they like and what they don’t like. We hope the kids stay around, but we’re not going to make them.”