Standing in a field surrounded by dairy cows was not the way Christy Underwood imagined her life would go.
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Christy and Michael Underwood decided to farm after taking a closer look at the food they were feeding their family. (Spectrum News 1/Vanessa Leon)

What You Need To Know

According to the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension, the county was once home to 150 dairy farms, but today only three are left

One reason for reduction in number was the Dairy Buyout Program in 1986 led by the government to decrease the amount of milk produced

Farmers also blame the increasing land values and higher taxes, pushing some farmers to sell their land to developers for top dollar


 

“But hey, they are ‘our girls,’ and we love them, and we love animals, and we love what we do,” said Underwood, owner of Underwood Family Farms in Cleveland County.

The county where they farm was once a bustling spot for the dairy industry.

According to the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension, it was once home to 150 dairy farms, but now the Underwood’s farm is one of only three that are left.

Underwood and her husband Michael were living in Wilmington before their move, and Michael Underwood was studying to get a teaching degree. One day, he came home with an article on farming and told his wife he wanted to change his career to become a farmer.

“There is a history of teachers in my family, but I’m a very active person. I love to be outside. I always have been. When I read that article and figured out that I can combine being outside all the time, also working with animals, which I love, and making my income, then it felt like a calling to me,” Michael Underwood said.

His wife had some concerns, but she was also pregnant and starting to think about the quality of food she was feeding her family and gave it serious thought.

“It made sense, we had a new child and we wanted to really think about what we were feeding our baby, and that was the first time I had given food thought in that way,” Christy Underwood said. “It made sense, we had a new child and we wanted to really think about what we were feeding our baby, and that was the first time I had given food thought in that way,” Christy Underwood said. 

So they did an internship on a farm, at first renting land and eventually buying their own acres in Cleveland County.

“We have about 60 acres of pasture that we own and 30 that we rent. My dad was in business and wanted us to do a business plan, which I think is good for any beginning farmer. And we found that Charlotte was a good market for our products, and we did a little market research. We like Cleveland County a lot with its location between Charlotte and Asheville. There’s two good markets, and we found land to rent here in Cleveland County, so we moved here,” Michael Underwood said. ​

They decided on dairy cows but also have pork and dabbled in lamb.

“It’s a way to work with the animals and have a relationship with the animals, although, we still take animals to the butcher, but this way we get to keep animals for years and get to know them and appreciate their personalities, and we love animals, and we love milk,” Christy Underwood said.

Every Saturday the Underwoods sell their product at the Charlotte’s Farmer’s Market where customers also desire farm fresh food.

Michael Underwood says the rising land prices have kept farmers from investing in Cleveland County.

One reason for reduction in the number of farms in the county stems from the Dairy Buyout Program in 1986, which was led by the government to decrease the amount of milk produced. Now, the farming landscape there is just a sliver of what it once was.

Farmers also blame the increasing land values and higher taxes, and claim they are pushing some farmers to sell their land to developers for top dollar.

“The prices have really risen within the year or two. At the prices they are now, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the land that we have. North Carolina was cheaper, but with everyone moving here, it’s getting more expensive, with it being such a popular state. We’re only going to lose more agriculture,” Underwood said.

He says the increasing land values also raise property taxes, creating a burden on farmers already struggling.

“Especially farmers that are renting their land out, because if they are not farming their own land, they are still paying taxes on that land, and with tax values going up and up that makes it harder to farm too,” he said.

​The Underwoods hope the community looks to buy from their local farmers, putting money back into their own community.

The delay in details being issued on the proposed dairy reduction scheme is “playing with the futures” of farm families, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

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