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Family legacy endures through growing farm
ROLLING FORK, Miss. -- Mindy Rutherford devotes her days to the family’s expanding Rolling Fork farm.
A former teacher, she left the classroom 11 years ago to focus full time on the row crop farm’s administrative duties and to help manage the first beef cattle herd she and her husband, Bill, bought. They are continuing a legacy begun by Bill Rutherford’s father in 1971.
“I always heard that if you are passionate about what you do, you never work a day in your life. It’s true, and that’s how I feel about the farm,” Mindy Rutherford said.
When her kids were small, Rutherford worked different jobs around town. She went back to college when they were in junior high and then taught for 12 years.
“I love the farm and that I get to work with my family every day,” she said.
Eventually, the Rutherfords’ son and daughter-in-law joined them in the business, which now includes chickens, pigs, dairy cows, vegetables and fruit, along with soybeans and corn, all grown on the 3,600-acre Kin Growers farm.
The Rutherfords’ daughter, who lives in Jackson, also helps out, selling eggs, milk and produce to friends, neighbors and others who want Mississippi-raised products.
Although she enjoys working with all the animals, cows remain Mindy Rutherford’s favorites. And that’s a good thing since the Rutherfords started a small dairy this year. The four Jersey cows must be milked twice a day -- at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Family members take turns fitting the rigorous milking schedule into their 12- to 14-hour days. As producers and processors, the Rutherfords pasteurize their milk on site.
“The dairy has definitely added a new component to our days,” she said. “Summers are busy.”
They are juggling an even more hectic schedule this year because they expanded the vegetable garden to about 2 acres and maintain a produce stand in town that is open two days a week. To satisfy a larger number of customers with the increased harvest, they started a community-supported agriculture network this year. People can buy shares of the garden for eight weeks to get a 10-pound box of produce each week.
“We have had such fun doing the market for our vegetables,” Mindy Rutherford said. “It’s one of our grandchildren’s favorite things to do. We love to meet people and share recipes for different things, like pickles and jam, which we also make and offer at the produce stand.”
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it is, she said. But it’s a labor of love.
“The farm is a way of life for us. It’s not just a job. We all genuinely enjoy what we do,” she said. “And we have a lot of hands. Everyone pitches in, even the grandchildren.
“When we work cows, it’s all hands on deck. We’re all out on the levee. It’s like we’re in a different place out there. We take lunch and have a picnic. We have a great time,” she said.
But there are challenging days, she said. Anytime the Rutherfords have questions about their animals or the business side of their farm, they know they can turn to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“We knew very little about beef cattle when we started,” Mindy Rutherford said. “The Extension county office was the first place we went. We have taken just about every class Extension offers, including the Beef 101 Workshop, Beef Bootcamp, the Master Cattle Producer class and the Beef Quality Assurance Program.”
As they prepared to open the dairy, the Rutherfords called Jon Carson, the Extension agent who serves Sharkey and Issaquena counties. Carson contacted Extension dairy specialist Lamar Adams, who spent several hours with the Rutherfords at their farm. Adams explained to them in detail what it takes to start and run a dairy, including time, costs, regulations and marketing.
“Extension has experts on every topic you can think of,” Carson said. “We are well-positioned to offer practical advice and help. My job is to connect the people of our county with Extension’s experts who can help them make decisions and succeed.”
Mindy Rutherford said opening the dairy is one of the most challenging hurdles they have faced as agricultural entrepreneurs.
“We relied on Extension’s expertise to help us meet the regulations of the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality,” she said. People in Extension have been great to us. They have helped us in so many ways.”
Sound decisions are important to the Rutherfords because they hope to pass down their love of the land to their seven grandchildren, who range in age from 7 to 15.
“Our goal is to keep the kids connected to the land,” Mindy Rutherford said. “They all love it, and we hope they can continue this way of life when they have children of their own.”