Neil Moye’s dive into dairying began — and could have ended — with two Jersey cows.
When Moye purchased his first cows, Daisy and Carrie, their purpose was simply to teach his three children how to handle livestock. But when his herd of two quickly grew to more than 150, a new family business was born. Now, Moye has a new mission at his dairy, Simply Natural Creamery: teach North Carolinians how their milk travels from farm to fridge.
As the only all-in-one dairy in eastern North Carolina, Simply Natural Creamery handles all parts of the production process, from growing crops to bottling, on-site. And their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: Last year, Simply Natural welcomed more than 30,000 visitors to tour the grounds, purchase milk and butter, and enjoy a selection of 40 ice cream flavors sold at the creamery store. Our State sat down with Moye to learn more about how one man’s lifelong love for farming has grown into a multi-generational business.
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OS: Did you have farming experience prior to opening Simply Natural Creamery?
Moye: I didn’t come from a farming family, but I grew up in a farming community about a mile and a half from the creamery — probably 75 to 80 percent of the people that I associated with on a daily basis were farmers or farmers’ kids. I liked being outside, dealing with crops and animals. I just enjoyed farm life and wanted to be a part of what I saw going on around me daily. I started working on farms when I got out of high school, but even then, I didn’t just want to be a farmer. I wanted to stand out in the farming community.
OS: You purchased your first Jersey cows for your children in the early 2000s. How did your plans to start a dairy develop after that?
Moye: We started letting the boys milk the cows and go through the same routine as a large dairy, but with only two cows. The kids really liked them, and the idea started there. We began looking at the possibility of producing a local dairy product that we could market under our own name. In 2009, we purchased more Jerseys and started building our dairy facility. We milked our first cows there in October 2011. Four years later, we built the processing plant and started bottling our own milk and making our own ice cream under the Simply Natural Creamery brand. So we went from having a couple of cows in the backyard to now milking 160 cows and processing 8,000 gallons of milk weekly.
OS: The dairy is best known for its ice cream. What makes Simply Natural Creamery’s ice cream so unique?
Moye: Simply Natural’s products are made from 100 percent Jersey milk, which is produced here on our farm. Jersey cows produce higher protein, calcium, and butterfat concentrations, which we feel produce a creamier, richer ice cream. We actually run a 16 percent butterfat ice cream, which is considered a super-premium product in the ice cream industry. Plus, we make ours in batch freezers. Larger plants make ice cream using continuous freezers because it’s a lot faster, but even though batch freezers are more labor-intensive, we think the quality is better when done the old way.
OS: How has your local community, and North Carolina’s farming network, supported your dairy and helped it flourish?
Moye: We were blessed with a lot of help from people who had farming knowledge — we didn’t come from a dairy background, so we started out very green. Greene County is a row crop farming community, and since we’re basically the only dairy east of Raleigh, I didn’t have a lot of dairy farmers in my area to reach out to; I had to look beyond my community. I became friends with some of the dairy farmers out west who could give advice when we had a lot of questions like, “If your cow is having trouble calving, what do you do?” We would also like to thank the local community for its support. Simply Natural Creamery is basically out in the middle of nowhere. Our visitors have to really want to come here to get here, and they do. They’re willing to make that drive. It’s been great.
OS: How would you characterize someone who identifies with the word “maker”?
Moye: If you can identify with the word “maker,” you’ve taken a lot of risks. You’ve put in sweat, but you’ve got a vision of what you want to see at the end of the road. And you know, a lot of times, it’s a hard road to get to that point. You’re going to put in some sweat, you’re going to put in some sleepless nights, and you’re going to need to keep pushing forward through good and bad. But eventually, one day, you’re going to wake up and you’re going to be there. But to be a maker, you will have to put in the effort.
OS: What are you most proud of accomplishing in the nearly four years that Simply Natural Creamery has been in business?
Moye: Overall, I’m proud that I was able to get this off the ground and start farming on my own. I was also especially proud when we were able to put in the dairy and processing plant, because I felt like what we’re making here was finally complete. We were very proud to be able to say that we produced something from start to finish, from growing crops, to milking, to processing, to marketing, even. We have a finished product here, and the consumer can come to our farm and pick it up directly.
OS: How has entering the dairy business and forging a connection with your cows expanded your childhood love of animals and farming?
Moye: I now have a passion for the cows; those cows are basically my life. We work with them seven days a week, 365 days a year. The cows are pretty much like family — sometimes we see them more than we do our family. Not everyone is cut out for dairying; there’s a lot of work and time that needs to be put in. But you can have a closeness with your herd that you can’t have with a row crop, and you just learn to love it. Now, I just can’t get dairying out of my blood.