Mar 18, 2019Meet My Farmer

Jimmy and Ginny Franks of Southern Swiss Dairy have been married for 34 years. In those three-plus decades, they have spent nearly every day, including every wedding anniversary — except one — working on the farm. In fact, the first and only anniversary they EVER spent away from the farm was last year, in July 2018. And guess how they celebrated. They took a “romantic” road trip to go see someone else’s dairy farm, way up in North Georgia.

The grit, the tenacity, the nerve, the resolve of a dairy farmer is a steely state of being. Perhaps they cultivated this uncommon stamina in themselves. But – given their collective histories – it’s hard not to think it was pre-baked into their DNAs. Ginny is a 5th generation dairy farmer who grew up milking in North Carolina. Jimmy is a 4th generation farmer from Georgia. Their kismet paths inevitably crossed while Ginny was at UGA’s School of Dairy & Animal Science. He was working as a cattle herdsman for the Hayes Star Ranch in Greenville, SC. She was studying the emerging science of frozen embryo transfer for bovine, in the 1980s, as a grad student, posted at the Bur-Col Ranch in Martinez, GA. She traveled with Dr. Coley to Hayes Star Ranch to flush cows during the holiday season where Jimmy was working. They both ended up back at Coley Ranch in Athens several years later.

It was simply meant to be.

Southern Swiss Dairy is located on just-shy-of 980 acres in Burke Country, GA. After working for someone else for five years as newlyweds, the couple bought their own land in 1992, in Waynesboro, in the middle of Mennonite country. Now, the Franks milk 160 cows twice a day, no matter what. No matter the destructive tornado that ripped through their farm in March 2013. No matter the frustrating fluctuation in milk prices due to unpredictable economies and other unknowns. No matter sickness or holidays, they milk … and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Years ago, the Franks decided that they would invest primarily in Brown Swiss, considered the oldest dairy breed in the world. The Brown Swiss breed is known for their gentleness and dates back to around 6000 BC from the mountains and valleys of today’s Switzerland. Ginny says she’s worked with many different breeds of milking cows – Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey – but the Brown Swiss has her heart. “I just love them,” she smiled. “It’s their disposition. They can be very sweet.”

Jimmy agreed. “How can I say this?” she started, trying to be diplomatic. “They’re like women. They want what they want. They’ll see you coming, and if they don’t want to do what you’re there to do, well, they’ll let you know.” But in a nice way.

The Brown Swiss is a high-producing dairy cow, historically considered a triple benefit to farmers for milk, meat and work. “They tolerate heat, they live longer, and they’re good grazers,” notes Ginny. “They come up and greet you.”

Moreover, the Brown Swiss dairy breed is now the focus of multiple studies related to an ancient protein in their milk known as A2/A2. In a nutshell, the story goes like this. Thousands of years ago, all cows produced milk with an A2/A2 beta-casein protein. Somewhere over time, however, a mutated A1 gene made its way into the mix. Most milk produced in the U.S. for human consumption today is a combination of A1/A2, a protein that some humans find difficult to digest. But this is not the case with Brown Swiss. Given its lineage, their A2/A2 protein remains intact. While the science is still underway, Southern Swiss Dairy has decided that this benefit is worth exploring on behalf of their customers. They’ve spent the last 3-4 years researching and now breeding A2/A2 bulls to ensure the lineage continues.

Farming is terribly expensive, and dairy farming is doubly so. The products from Southern Swiss are non-homogenized, low pasteurized, free of artificial growth hormones and bottled right on the farm. This practice meets Georgia’s Department of Ag legal standards, while also allowing the milk to keep its beneficial enzymes alive and proteins intact. As such, it has a shorter shelf life than the homogenized, ultra-pasteurized milk you get from the store. It needs to remain cold; increase in temperature can result in shelf life cut in half. It’s got to move quickly from farm to customer. The milk you get from Southern Swiss Dairy is only a few days from the cow to your table. That’s about as fresh as it gets unless you plan to milk it yourself.

The foundation of Southern Swiss Dairy is family, Ginny says. Their grown children all contribute to the success of their dairy as much as they can, having been trained and educated as agricultural professionals in their own right.

Key to their success is to “maintain as much control as possible” over all aspects of their business, and particularly the final sale of their products. Few dairy farmers can say that they do this anymore. Most simply sell to the local milk co-op. But the Franks aren’t known for taking the path of least resistance. In order for Southern Swiss Dairy to truly financially benefit from their products, they built a bottling facility on their farm in 2010, one of the few in the CRSA. They also personally cultivate customers and deliver to markets, restaurants and independent grocers all over the state. Their value-added products like heavy cream, half-n-half, butter and ice cream provide them with additional ways to add income to their very tight margins. What they can’t sell directly, they will sell to the co-op, but their goal is to always increase direct sales.

Southern Swiss Dairy products are featured at Buona Caffe and Lanier’s Fresh Meat Market, and are available for sale through the Augusta Locally Grown OnLine Market. Recently a new restaurant in Columbia County has taken interest in their ground beef, but most of the chefs to whom they sell are in Savannah, Athens, Atlanta, Macon, Statesboro and even Madison. “Augusta has been our toughest market to break into among chefs,” notes Ginny. And Jimmy nods in agreement.

Let’s change that today.

Got Milk, Augusta?