With the fields of Bibb County serving as it’s backdrop, fifty years have passed since Donacin Dairy filled its first container of milk. What was once a bustling hub of life, the heart of a dairy empire, is now a haunting shell of its former glory. Empty milk tanks loom like silent sentinels, bearing witness to the decades of hard work and dedication that had once coursed through the veins of this family-owned business. Stalls where cows had been passionately milked day after day, now layered with cobwebs.
“The quietness of the church in my office, I opened this Jamison Faucet Brown commentary and I was reading the commentary on that passage of scripture. The very last sentence of that commentary of that verse said, ‘it’s not a return to the world, but a reluctance to break from it.’ When I read that I broke down in my office that morning and tears come to my eyes and God said, ‘it’s time. They have to go,'” says Benjamin Newberry, Owner of Donacin Dairy Farms.
Newberry, the patriarch of the family, looks over his once active milking stations, struggling with an identity he had known his entire life. Like so many small dairymen in his position, the business has transformed from a labor of love into a struggle for survival. According to Benjamin, the traditional gallon of milk, the lifeblood of the Newberry farm, is now wielded as a loss leader by grocery stores and markets. Additionally, he points out the squeeze on profits, milk prices in a perpetual free fall, while the cost of feeding his beloved cows, constantly on the rise. People too are changing their tastes, gravitating toward non-dairy alternatives. The world has moved on say’s Benjamin, and the Newberry’s farm was caught in the undertow of change.
“It was part of my identity. It was part of who I was. I grew up on the farm. I stayed on the farm. I raised my kids on the farm, and just had a reluctance to break from it, but knew that it was the right decision from a business standpoint, but also because God said it was time. So, that’s what I did. The market doesn’t need a small dairy; we needed the market. With the market being so small as I would say in the Southeast, it becomes increasingly difficult for a small dairymen to survive. These larger, family owned farms and producers realized that they had to get big enough that the market needed them. They had the foresight to grow and meet the demands of the market, but also get to a place that the market is dependent upon them,” says Newberry.
At their peak, Donacin Dairy had about 300 cows. Today, this is all the remains. A couple of Holsteins, a handful of jersey’s, and some beef cattle. Yet, the true heartbreak is the impact the closing of the dairy will have on the Newberry family. Benjamin often dreamt of passing the farm down through generations, watching his children and their children tend to the cows he had lovingly cared for. Now, their legacy is forced to take a different path, a new avenue not yet paved.
Even though Donacin Dairy is now silent, it’s legacy will live on in the hearts of the Newberry family, a testament to the spirit of those who once worked this farm with love and devotion. Although his heart heavy, Benjamin tells me he is grateful for what really matters most. His family, his faith and position as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church…
and the entire community of Bibb County, which Benjamin says has gone above and beyond to show it’s support.
“There were 42 dairies in this county in the early seventies and we were the last of them to survive,” says Newberry. “You don’t realize how many people you affect in life until you experience a life changing moment. It’s been good. I’m grateful for it. Me and Ashley are expecting our first grandchild at Christmas. So, that’s exciting and dealing with that and helping my youngest daughter prepare for that. Really haven’t been short of things to do, but as far as what my identity will be, if I tell people what I’m doing, it’d probably be just continuing to Pastor Calvary Baptist Church and loving on the people and helping where I can.”
By: Ray D’Alessio