The intensity of the summer sun beats down on the asphalt-paved highway that connects Windthorst and Scotland, Texas. The ribbons of heat hover just above the ground, blurring each of the 6.3 miles on US-281 between the two towns. The hot sky is just beginning to swallow up the day, with deep pinks and oranges painting the horizon, almost like sherbet, behind the Windthorst Agricultural Center. Four-door pickups and livestock trailers pepper the parking lot, with double the number of hay bales and folding chairs circling a roped-off, grassy area full of neighbors celebrating the annual Dairy Show. Welcome to Texas.
Big hellos from a few familiar faces emerge from around the circle, with equally hearty greetings from those who are not familiar. Dawning white 4-H Club T-shirts, local kiddos proudly grip nylon halters and lead their cows, many of which are much bigger than they are, into the arena. With heads held high, they present their best gals to a handful of judges.
“That one is my granddaughter,” is a common phrase by many in attendance. Pointing to her, as well as her father, mother, brother, uncle and first and second cousins. Family — blood or not — is everyone here tonight.
Midway through kids gleaming in the arena, everyone makes their way into the circle with pieces of scratch paper and pencils, jotting down which ladies, in order, they believe are the best looking. Scribbles are among the scratches, with grown-ups hosting friendly banter about how their piece of paper will be the winner.
“The winner is Pay-ey-ser-on Shields with a 100-percent,” says the announcer.
Well. Look. At. That. There is more shock in the unusual name announced than the fact that a stranger has swept the night. Quickly, friends are made.
As the sun continues to dip lower and lower, the evening continues. Those once white T-shirts are now streaked with melted ice cream that didn’t quite make it into the smiles of little ones. Hands tingle from clapping as each winner of the show is announced, with the phrase, “that one is my granddaughter,” making dialogue yet again.
The broad arms of lawn chairs are tightened to attention, with each chair fitting snuggly into its pouch. The ladies are loaded up and eventually, as conversations taper, everyone begins to head home on highway US-281. But apparent in my first evening in these two towns, is there’s more than a highway connects them — dairy is the common denominator.
Night one in Archer County and the people have already welcomed a newcomer, a lucky winner and someone who came to tell their stories. So, here they are, in no particular order.
THE DAIRY ON THE HILL
When glancing from the gravel road up to Hoff Hill Dairy, grain silos tower over the other farm buildings like skyscrapers in a big city. As the road nears, the Texas skyscraper moves into perspective and the view changes from looking at the hill to being on the hill. Miles and miles of grassy pastures are scattered with stark white wind turbines — the blades larger than a semi-truck, but look like oversized toothpicks from afar. No matter where you turn, the view is just as clear as the morning sky.
Leo Hoff Jr. is the farmer on the hill, a spot he’s had since 1992. Growing up the youngest of six, hard work was a Hoff family attribute. Weathered and tough with calluses, his hands alone could tell his story of early mornings, long days and decades within the industry.
Even though his children are grown — his two daughters married other dairy farmers and his son works in the medical field, helping out on the farm on weekends — Leo is dedicated to the next generation. He spends time as a dairy judging coach, and kids from all over the state borrow his heifers for no charge. As many as 23 cows are across the state at a given time, teaching those who borrow them the knack of hard work and responsibility.
Influencing future farmers is one of Leo’s passions, and his mantra remains constant.
“Do your best and do it the hardest you can because you don’t want to look back and say, ‘Man, if I’d have done this, I could have done this.’”
Deana Vieth’s smile, just as warm as her welcome, might as well stretch across the panhandle. As a teacher at Windthorst schools and wife to a dairyman, James, her passions of teaching and agriculture are hard to miss. In 2016, when there wasn’t an advisor for the local 4-H program, Deana didn’t hesitate to step in and keep it going.
“We are in a dairying community,” she says. “We couldn’t allow this to happen.”
More than a club to rural communities, 4-H provides countless opportunities for students of all abilities. It’s a town similar to that portrayed in “Friday Night Lights,” where football is up there with dairying and Sunday morning rituals. Beyond dairy judging, archery and cooking classes, Deana spends a lot of time with her students driving home what matters most — giving back.
“In October (2016), 4-H collected supplies for schools that had flooded,” she beams. “That was extremely rewarding for me as a teacher.”
With her determination to keep going, Deana has increased enrollment, inspired more parents to get involved in 4-H and is truly dedicated to engaging and teaching the next generation of not only dairy farmers, but hard-working human beings. And the students aren’t the only ones learning. Deana says she learns every day from her involvement with 4-H — especially patience.
“When you see something click, or they finally win that ribbon — that’s when you know all the hard work is worth it.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
As a truck and trailer are pulled into the bay to be sudsed up and rinsed, Jimmy Rhoads checks his clipboard with driver logs and reflects on his many years as the terminal manager in this area. Jimmy oversees 15 milk haulers, those of whom help bridge the gap — literally — between farm and fork.
“Haulers are more than just drivers,” Jimmy says. “Farmers treat them like family, and without drivers, you’ve got nothing.”
Hauling up to nine loads of milk per day from 37 local farms is no small task, and like dairying, it isn’t dependent upon a 40-hours-per-week schedule. Going above and beyond is a common trait, driven by personal touch and tight-knit relationships. Spending some years as a hauler himself, Jimmy is no stranger to that trait either, instilling it into his managerial style, vowing to be a mentor and to never ask anything of his drivers that he wouldn’t do himself.
Sharing stories that still make him chuckle 20 years later, there is no doubt that Jimmy’s favorite part of the Windthorst and Scotland communities is the people and relationships he builds every day.
“I really appreciate the dairymen we work for,” he says humbly. “I can’t ask for a better opportunity than to be able to haul their milk.”
FEEDING THE TOWN
In 1939, Berend Bros. opened up on highway 281. While there are now five locations spanning across northwestern Texas, Windthorst is the original spot, and for the past 15 years, Brandon Berend has been managing the location he grew up going to.
“I love working with dairymen,” he says. “Everyone knows everybody and that helps get us some credibility here.”
Coming back home after attending Texas A&M and working in retail sales, Brandon continues to strengthen those relationships he built while growing up. Beyond providing more than 20 truckloads of dairy feed to local farms each week, Brandon bleeds the retail golden rule — always doing right by the customer.
The store’s positive reputation isn’t the only part of its history. The Berend Bros. truck is also a common fixture in town. As the restored truck is pulled out of the storage shed, Brandon gleams just as much as the truck’s shiny rims and slick paint job. A mobile monument, it’s shown off during special occasions — like the town’s 125th anniversary parade in June 2017.
Brandon and the employees of the store stay busy — the busiest in the company to be exact — but between the end of one busy week and the start of the next, they always take Sundays to spend time with those who mean the most. While that’s not typical for a retail store, Berend Bros. isn’t a typical retail store, always ensuring the families they serve and the ones who work for them are treated as such.
Dairying is a family business, and that rings true with the Hemmi men.
“Close to 100 years ago, my grandfather started this dairy,” says third-generation farmer Bryan Hemmi.
Bryan’s father Arthur, Art for short, followed in his father’s footsteps and in turn, Bryan followed suit, taking over Hemmi Dairy in Scotland in 1985. That father-son tradition continues with Bryan’s own — the fourth generation — Cole and Brent.
Standing underneath the shadow of a grain silo to catch some shade, Bryan, Cole and Brent take a break from the day-to-day grind and the sun. Through their jokes and tough-wit, respect radiates from one man to the other. Not only as family members, but also as business partners.
“I learned everything from my dad,” says Bryan with the echo of his two sons.
Raised on the farm, dairying is in their blood and the only thing Cole and Brent know — even referring to working on the farm as their own version of school.
“I would rather work with these two than anyone else,” says Bryan, who even with his more than three generations of running the farm, is open to new ways of doing things. In late spring 2017, the Hemmis built a 400-cow freestall barn — a brand new home for their 350 cows.
Not only does the barn cool you down on 100-degree days with hair-frizzing humidity, it provides a foundation for Cole and Brent to expand the dairy and their livelihood. And like the men before them, they continue to wake up every day to do what they love.
ONE OF THE WOLF BROTHERS
Before Windthorst was an incorporated town, the Wolfs were here — a common name around here and Scotland. A quick trip through both towns and you’re bound to meet one, or at least pass a farm dawning a “Wolf” last name on the sign.
Gary Wolf’s great-grandfather lived in Windthorst pre-inc., and now, four generations later, he runs Wolf Bros. Dairy, a 90-cow operation his father started in 1970. The milk Gary’s girls produce, like most of the product made in Archer County, is made into Daisy Brand Sour Cream, which then makes its way onto burritos, tacos and bowls in Chipotle Mexican Grills all over the nation. That direct farm-to-table connection helps Gary tell his story about the quality and heart of dairy — which he sees as the safest food there is.
“I want consumers to know this isn’t about getting a milk check, no no,” impassions Gary. “It’s about being around the cows — seeing a calf born and being able to watch her grow and take care of her for the rest of her life.”
While spending his days with the cows is where Gary feels most at home, he is just as involved with his community. Dedicating time to the local and state school boards, his church and even being on Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) — his milk marketing cooperative — Area Council, leaving him no stranger to leadership roles. Contributing to the place he lives and works is the only way he’d have it.
“The people — that’s my favorite part about this place,” he says. “They’re all good people who are always trying to do the right thing.”