At Richmond’s DeGraaf Farm, generations are the key to success. From the tiny newborns, the weaning “teens” to the adult cows ready for their own jobs, the transition is what makes everything special.
The same goes for the two-legged folks, too – Harold and wife Anje spend their days joined by adult children Renee and Nick. From working the fields to tending the cows, the family that farms together, it seems, thrives together.
Son Michael has long been a part of the farming work, too, though he now lives in Michigan, and son Tristan has worked full-time with his family since 2020 — though eventual ownership isn’t his goal like his siblings.
The family was all smiles despite the post-rain soggy ground, as they greeted vendors and checked on their newborn animals.
Relationships, it seems, have been essential to the business. That includes their relationship with VEDA.
Patriarch DeGraaf bought his own father out of the company, from there partnering with his brother. A few years later, the DeGraafs and their cows relocated to their current home in Richmond.
DeGraaf’s first VEDA loan was received to buy a tractor, followed by operating loans and a mortgage.
Given the environmental factors and fluctuating prices for milk, the costs associated with doing business can sometimes feel overwhelming.
“There’s days you say, ‘How am I gonna pay this off?’ And especially since we’re not in control of what we can charge for our product, that makes it a little more daunting,” DeGraaf said. “It’s easy to say, you have to pay this much; you can budget it in. But if you have control of what your income is, it gets to the point you diversify more to not just rely on the milk side of dairy farming.”
Excess milk production costs farmers money — a fact exacerbated by uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic — so business plans have to maintain a level of fluidity, too, to keep up.
For the DeGraafs, this is the current conversation. From beef cattle to building up the farm infrastructure, time will tell how the farm evolves. And how the farmers evolve — Nick, DeGraaf’s eldest son, and Renee, his only daughter, are putting their passions to practice on the farm.
And the duo are continuing the family’s relationship with VEDA.
When they decided to purchase cows on their own — a deal too good to pass up — they needed funding, and fast. Their loan officer, Ellen Howrigan, was able to get the ball rolling and help collaborate with Nick on the paperwork to make it happen; the less glamorous part of the process, perhaps.
In the end, the DeGraafs are all about support — supporting one another, supporting the complicated dairy industry, and embracing support from VEDA. These elements, together, form a strong bond that has each other’s backs.