Spirit of Alabama: Family bringing fresh milk back in Gordo
Have you ever tasted fresh milk? I mean really farm fresh, ice-cold whole milk. If you’d like to and you live in West Alabama, all it takes is a quick drive.
Circle J. Dairy is part of Junkin Farms north of Gordo. Ralph Junkin Jr. fondly remembers working with dairy cows with his late father.
“The dairy was always something that we all enjoyed,” he said. “When we sold it, I didn’t realize how much I missed it until we started back. It’s been great.”
While the dairy closed in the mid 1990s, Junkin Farms continued raising chickens and beef cattle.
But when Ralph’s daughter Jessica Vails graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in agriculture, she knew exactly what that degree trained her for: Bringing dairy back to the farm.
“I feel like dairy farming is kinda in my blood because I didn’t get in on the dairy when my Poppa started it,” she said. “I was born one year later in 1996 and they sold in 1995, but I’ve always heard stories about it and it’s always intrigued me. I’ve always thought, wow, that sounds like such a neat lifestyle.”
It hasn’t been easy, Vails said, because running a dairy farm requires a lot more effort and time compared to a 9-to5. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nowadays, twice a day — early in the morning and again in the afternoon — the cows are brought into the milking room four at a time. The whole family is involved; Jessica works alongside her parents, her husband Tyler and her brothers.
Seeing his family working together is major blessing, Junkin said, and he couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s a dream come true for your child to come back and want to be a part of your farm,” he said. “You get to see them every day and work side by side. It’s something you really can’t put into words. It’s very gratifying. It’s special.”
The milk is bottled and sold right at the farm, and stores in West Alabama are beginning to stock Circle J Dairy milk, too.
Vails said she plans to add butter, chocolate milk and ice cream down the road. Every day she’s working at the farm, she thinks about her grandfather, who she called Poppa.
“I know he would love this operation,” Vails said. “He would be here every single day, so I wish he were here to see it. I know he would be very proud and I hope me and my Dad are making him proud.”
There aren’t many family run dairy farms around anymore, but, Circle J Dairy is open for business. Together the family plans to produce high quality products for many, many years.
You can follow along with the dairy farm on Instagram @circlejdairy, and if you’re interested in picking up some fresh milk, you can visit the farm Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m. They’re located at 9344 Highway 159, Gordo, AL 35466.
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