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End of an era: Van Pelts retire dairy farm

By By James Crawford
News Editor
After more than 50 years of raising cattle and producing high quality milk, the Van Pelt Dairy Farm is shutting down its milking machines and closing the barn doors.
The Van Pelts held an auction on March 12 at the Van Pelt Farm to liquidate its stock of cattle and farm equipment and begin the process of closing shop. Once the cattle and equipment are dispersed, the farm will be leased to a row farmer who will take over in the coming months.
A family tradition for more than half a century, the Van Pelt farm began in Pensacola with Lester Van Pelt, who was originally from Paris, Texas, near what is now car city. The Van Pelts moved the business north to an existing farm when Hwy 29 came in and dissected the property.
"The soil was much better for farming anyway," said current co-owner George Van Pelt. "There was a dairy farm here before we came. It was just two little ole' barns. There has been a farm on this land for a long, long time."
George's partner and brother James Van Pelt, better known as Jim, bought the farm from their father in 1959 when he retired. "He had decided to retire and asked us if we wanted it," said Van Pelt.
The Van Pelts have produced milk at their current location for more than 40 years through co-ops.
The Van Pelts joined the Mid-Am Diary Co-Op in the early 90s. That co-op was later bought by the Dairy Farmers Association Co-Op whom they will continue to sell until they disperse their supply. They originally were associated with Dairy Fresh of Mobile and have been in five markets throughout the years according to Van Pelt.
The auction was handled by Walnut Grove Auction and Realty, who took inventory lists of the herd records and arranged for the actual auction.
"It's all dairy cows. We're saving the young heifers to sale later. The land will stay in the family," said Van Pelt.
One young couple, The Wards of Wards Dairy, had eight buys in just the first hour of bidding. The Wards traveled from Andalusia to see the cows, noted for their high quality.
"His dad is the owner. We're about to take over. Everything is going well here today. We've only seen one or two with problems out of about 40, which is a really good percentage," said Anna Ward. "It doesn't take long to spend a lot of money," said Ward looking at winning tickets that amounted to more than $10,000 worth of livestock.