The first Wright Dairy began in neighboring St. Clair County in the late 1940s, when Milton and Ruth Wright started farming near Ragland on what they later named Riverbend Farm. In 1947, they started milking cows and selling their bulk milk to a creamery in Boaz. The local doctor encouraged Milton to set up a bottling plant and deliver milk because he was concerned that the children of Ragland did not have a good source of fresh milk.
So, from 1949 to 1953, Milton and Ruth milked cows, pasteurized, and bottled milk and buttermilk and delivered it door-to-door around Ragland. By the end of this era, they had a family of four children - Janie, Judy, David, and Susan. Toward the end of their delivering days, David often rode alongside his daddy in the old pickup truck as he picked up empty bottles and delivered full ones. Wright Dairy even supplied the school lunchroom at Ragland with fresh milk in half-pint bottles for a time.
When grocery stores began stocking fresh milk regularly and transportation improved in rural areas such as Ragland, the Wrights returned to wholesaling their milk. They expanded the milking herd, concentrating on quantity as well as quality, by introducing Holstein cattle (the popular black-and-white breed) to the farm. The children helped in all aspects of the family farming operation. But as time passed, they went their separate ways to college, families and careers.
In 1974, David rejoined the family farming enterprise when he and Milton formed a business partnership in Riverbend Farm. Each with an entrepreneurial spirit, this father and son team was never out of ideas for expansion and innovation on the farm.
In 1977, David bought the 200-acre dairy at Alexandria already known as Canebrake Farm. It had an established herd of Holsteins and a standard method of farming similar to other Alabama dairy farms. This included raising corn or sorghum cane on much of the farm acreage to feed the cattle and purchasing a large volume of commercial feed for producing high-volume wholesale milk.
By the 1990's, dairy farming in Alabama and throughout the U.S. had changed. Small family-owned and operated dairies were disappearing rapidly, in favor of large commercial dairies. Cows grazing in pastures became an unusual sight, even in Alabama. David and his wife, Leianne, had to rethink the way they would operate the dairy to make it profitable, environmentally friendly and less labor-intensive.
After much study, they realized that downsizing the herd was possible by returning to the time-honored practice of grass farming. After a few years of gradual changes that led to grazing as the primary means of feeding their cows, everything else fell into place. The cows were healthier and happier, the milk was higher quality, the tractors were in the fields less, and David and Leianne had more time to spend with their children, Henry and Lydia.
In the meantime, friends and neighbors prompted the Wrights to sell some "good, old-fashioned milk" from their pasture-fed cows. After over a year of building, remodeling and installing machinery, David bottled the first Wright Dairy milk of this century in February 2000, and the Wright Dairy Store opened its doors to the community. With natural quality and good taste, Wright Dairy whole milk and buttermilk were instant hits. Homemade ice cream, chocolate milk and low-fat milk soon followed. Amish butter, cheese and canned goods became standard store items.
Teachers, friends and neighbors, now customers, asked the Wrights to open the farm to the public with tours. So, from May 2001 through June 2007, the family and employees hosted Wright Dairy Farm Tours. Busloads of children and adults were taught farming basics and the importance of eating clean food, all while having an enormous amount of fun on hay rides, in the petting zoo, and in the tour barn on bleachers learning how a real cow is milked. Enlisting the help of all family members made this possible. Milton and Ruth Wright were always on hand, sporting their "Grand-daddy" and "Grand-mother" nametags.
With the passing of the first generation and the dispersal of the second generation to become doctors and to own their own businesses, David and Leianne and their two children Henry and Lydia (now out of college) have closed the store and discontinued tours. The bottling and ice cream machines were sold, and the rooms were turned into a butter processing room and a cheese processing room. They now make the finest cheeses, pure and simple, that you can purchase.
Their products are still extremely rare quality, grass-based, and from an outstandingly healthy herd of cattle. It is "top shelf" dairy, sold to wholesalers at reasonable prices - Whole Foods without the whole cost.
The Wrights’ goal is to provide products in demand by discerning individuals and so remain on the farm with their two young adults. It is rare to find contented folks willing to share pure food for reasonable prices for the longevity.