Saving the Family Farm

Small Business

Saving the Family Farm

When the dairy business turned sour, this family switched to selling wine and grass-fed Angus to local foodies. As told to Robert Frick.

Bill Hatch, Leesburg, Virginia

Why did you switch from dairy farming? My dad purchased the farm in 1950, and we were in the dairy business from then until 1986. About that time we were sinking into debt, and we figured we had to make a change to hold on to the farm.

Why not just expand? I didn't like where agriculture was going in America. The move to bigger, more industrial farms meant practices that weren't always best for the land or the food chain.

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What do you produce now? In 1986, we switched to the beef business, and in 2003 we went into producing grass-fed Angus. A year before that we put in a mile of trellis and planted 1,000 grape vines, mostly Cabernet Franc. We first sold wine in 2007, when we produced 150 cases. We sell at two nearby farmers markets.

Why grass-fed angus? We realized people were paying more attention to what they eat, and eating locally produced food is a good bet not only for your health, but also for reducing your carbon footprint. Our products aren't shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles. So we appeal to "locavores." And there's good money in it? We can charge a premium price, in part because of the demographics of the local population-it's well educated with a pretty high median income.


Why wine? Wine has always fascinated me. I acquired a taste for it in my late twenties and became particularly enchanted with red wine, although making it seemed like a complex undertaking. But when I visited my kids in northern Italy, an expert told me: "Just go ahead and do it. There's nothing magical."

Is the business in the black? Yes, and we're finally debt-free. All the profits are being put back into the winery and farm. My brother and I are the only two of five siblings who remain on the farm. I still work another job, as a senior video engineer for ABC News.

What does the future hold? Our business plan includes me keeping my day job for another five years. Of course, staying on the farm is a lifestyle decision as well as a business decision.