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Oakland's last farmers


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The dairy is one of just a handful of large Oakland County farms that are operating today, as cropland is scarce and increasing in value. In nearly all cases, the family farms in Oakland County remain today because they have been handed down through generations.

"There are houses all the way around the farm," Cook said. "We are kind of the last ones hanging on.

"You wouldn't be able to go out and start it. You don't make as much as people think. It's a modest income, and more of a tradition and family value. The ice cream has been good to us and that's what keeps us going. If we didn't have the processing plant, we would have been out of business a long time ago."

In 2012, Oakland County was home to a total 537 farms, making up 31,722 acres of farmland with an average size of 59 acres, according to the USDA's 2012 Census of Agriculture. By comparison, the USDA's 1969 census recorded 863 farms in the county, totaling 101,820 acres of farmland or about 18.4 percent of the total land in the county. The average size of a farm in 1969 in Oakland County was 118 acres.

Of the more than 500 farms in Oakland County in 2012, four were made up of 1,000 or more acres; seven have between 500 and 999 acres; and 21 are between 499 and 180 acres.

Matt Scramlin, who serves as president of the Oakland County Farm Bureau, said while the size of the average farm in the county is getting smaller, farmers are adapting and learning to do more with less.

"Some of our greenhouse growers can work on much smaller acres than I can do, and still make almost the same," Scramlin, a fourth generation farmer in Holly. "It's changing, but we have to adapt for that. Many of us who have had stand-alone farms have had to open it up to the public, but many farmers may not be that open to that many people strolling on the farm every day. Many farmers feel like they are on an island, and don't always interact with others, but here in Oakland County, we have to.

"I remember when (the Cooks) put in the processing plant at the dairy, and everyone thought he was crazy, and that it wouldn't work. Now he's the only one left because of that."

Scramlin said the ground quality in Oakland County also presents its own challenges.

"We are sitting on some of the largest gravel stream here, while Monroe has been able to hold off (selling farmland) because they have really good farm ground. Here in Oakland County where the ground quality isn't as high, it was easier to sell out and move to other places."

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Tags: LONGFORM

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