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Earning an honest living: farming

by Justine Schulerud,
  • The Riverside Dairy Farm is located eight miles from Elon’s campus and has been on the same land since the 1800’s. The dairy farm milks an average of 120 cattle, twice a day. On average the farm produces 56,000 pounds of milk a day. The farm ended last year with a profit of $20,000, which is less than a year's tuition at Elon University. The farm lost between $75,000 and $100,000 last year alone. All photos by Justine Schulerud.

Doug Sockwell's alarm clock goes off every morning at 3 a.m. He gets out of bed before the sun rises to do what he has been doing his entire life — farm. Doug begins the morning milking, which usually starts by 3:30 a.m. and lasts about two hours. This is just the morning of his 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job.

Doug, along with his wife, Paulette, and two sons, William and John Paul, own Riverside Dairy Farm in Gibsonville eight miles from Elon University. Doug is the seventh generation to farm on the land of Riverside Dairy, which was initially purchased in 1850. Doug's father began a dairy farm with six Holstein cows in the early 1940s. The farm has grown since his father hand-milked six cows. Now, the farm averages 120 milking cows. Despite the expansions made since his father began the farm, Doug, along with farmers all across the country, is dealing with the issue of sustainability.

Riverside Dairy Farm is one of the seven remaining dairy farms in Guilford County. In the past year, two other farms in the county have been sold. In the 1950s, there were 170 dairy farms in Guilford County.

This drastic drop of farms is not just a problem in North Carolina, but throughout the entire country. Farms are slowly dying out because of money situations, pressure from housing developments, the government and lack of interest from children to take over the farm, Sockwell said.

The Sockwells serve as a prime example of the hard economic times that are plaguing the country, especially in the agricultural business. Just last year, the Sockwells lost between $75,000 and $100,000 and finished the year with an income of $20,000.

The lack of profit for farmers, such as the Sockwells, is primarily because of the low milk prices. The farm gets $16.50 per 100 pounds of milk, while it costs $17 to produce. But improvements have been made in the past three months.

At one point they were receiving $11.50 per 100 pounds. The farm sells its milk to Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. This milk is then processed and sold to places such as Maola Milk Company, Valley Milk, Harris Teeter and Food Lion. Staying in business for farms throughout the nation is a constant question.

"I stay in the business because of my love of farming," Doug said. "Being my own boss, being out in the fresh air and enjoying the country smell is what keeps me going."

Although the future isn't looking especially bright, Doug hopes to turn the farm over to William and John Paul. They would then be the eighth generation of Sockwells to carry on the farming tradition. John Paul and his wife are expecting twins soon and hope to have a son who will later take over the farm. Good values, work ethics, learning how to survive on little and being independent are all qualities that John Paul said he hopes to instill in his children, as was done for him.

Despite the hard times, the Sockwells sincerely love what they do and continue to put in the countless number of hours every day.

"We're earning an honest living," John Paul said. "The money ain't there, but it's honest."