Business

Owners of Crawford County farm go back to basics

ROBERTA -- Kerry and Robin Dunaway are not what some people might call typical Georgia farmers.

They don’t have hundreds of acres of cotton, peanuts, peach trees or pecan trees. They don’t have years and years of farming experience. In fact, they both had very different careers in the past.

But today the husband and wife team farm close to the old-fashioned way: a few acres of land, a few head of grass-fed cattle, some hogs and free-range chickens.

The Dunaways own and operate Greenway Farms of Georgia in Crawford County.

Not only do they sell meat from the farm, but they sell soaps, pickles, sauces, jellies and other canned products, mostly at farmers markets in Middle Georgia.

The couple’s road to this kind of farming evolved over time.

Kerry Dunaway grew up on his grandparents’ farm, which had hundreds of acres of row crops and about 500 cows in Crawford County. Early in life he thought he would be a farmer.

“I enjoyed working with the cattle the most,” he said. “I grew up showing steers in the 4-H and FFA. I went off to college and came back here in 1978 and started farming.”

He bought a 48-acre farm and was raising pigs at the time. A few years later a woman from Texas, who was a friend of a farm worker on his grandfather’s farm, “showed up and said she wanted to buy my farm, so she did.”

Dunaway decided it wasn’t a good time to stay in farming because of the economy, so he decided to pursue something else he had an interest in -- law enforcement.

In the early 1980s he got a job as an officer with the Roberta Police Department, working from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. He went home, changed uniforms and then went to work with the Forsyth Police Department from 4 p.m. until midnight. He did this for nearly three years.

“I was young and wanted the income,” he said.

Then the longtime Crawford County sheriff at the time, Lucious O’Neal Jr., died, and a friend encouraged Dunaway to run to finish out O’Neal’s term.

Dunaway ran for sheriff and won. He was 25 years old. He was re-elected six times before he retired.

“I really enjoyed working for the people of this county,” he said. “First week in office I fixed a lady’s hot water heater.”

But of course the majority of his work involved patrolling, investigating cases and managing the jail. When he was elected, there were only three other employees in the department. By the time he retired on Dec. 31, 2008, the department had more than 30 employees.

Dunaway was only 50 when he retired. “I just felt like it was time for newer blood and fresher ideas,” he said.

Robin Dunaway retired on the same day, but her path to Greenway Farms was a bit different.

She grew up on “the north edge of Macon ... before it was populated.” She spent time on her family’s farm. She first went to college to become a veterinarian but ended up changing her major to criminal justice.

After graduation, she worked as a law enforcement officer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for two years. But her mother didn’t like seeing her daughter wearing a weapon.

So Dunaway decided to go to law school and after graduation became an assistant district attorney in the Macon Judicial Circuit. She was there 28 years and worked on drug cases, then child victim cases and then white-collar crime.

“You didn’t do the same thing every day, and you were helping people,” she said. “I loved it while I was there. ... It was a very fulfilling job. ... When it wasn’t fun anymore was when I decided to retire.”

A year before they retired, the Dunaways bought some land, put a sawmill on it and cleared some of the property. They had horses, then added pigs and then some cows. They started out selling lumber and did some custom sawing.

About four years ago, they began selling at local farmers markets frozen beef, pork and chicken from animals raised on the farm.

Other products were in the works, even though it didn’t start out that way.

COMMERCIAL KITCHEN ALLOWS BUSINESS TO GROW

Robin Dunaway said she had been making pickles “most of my adult life. ... My father always had a huge garden. ... I start giving away pickles, and people would say, ‘You should sell these,’ so I did.”

The Dunaways built a commercial kitchen in a separate building on the farm. It meets all the regulations to be a certified kitchen -- they have a Georgia license to produce commercial-grade foods, as well as a license from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The first thing they sold was garlic dill pickles, and they are still the best seller, Robin Dunaway said. Now Greenway Farms has five different pickles, chow chow, three tomato sauces as well as various jellies, jams and preserves, depending on what’s in season.

She also makes and sells goat’s milk soap, organic shampoos and conditioners, lotions and a pet shampoo.

Kerry Dunaway said that while he manages the livestock and his wife manages anything that comes out of the kitchen, they work together when needed.

“I love to work,” Robin Dunaway said. “I love to be doing something. I like to sweat. ... I like to see the results of my labor.”

They sell most products at three area farmers markets: the International City Farmer’s Market on Watson Boulevard in Warner Robins on Thursdays, the Mulberry Market at Tattnall Square Park on Wednesdays and the Wesleyan Market on Forsyth Road the second Saturday of each month. The only retail store selling their products now is Dickey Farms in Musella.

They also sell some of their products to restaurants, including Grow -- a farm to table restaurant on Riverside Drive in Macon -- The Perfect Pear in Perry and The Bakery and Café at Rose Cottage in Pine Mountain.

Saralyn Collins, owner of Grow, said she met the Dunaways at the Mulberry Market a couple of years ago. She began buying meat from them when she did farm-to-table catering, and when she switched her restaurant to a farm-to-table model, she was able to buy from them weekly.

She now purchases beef, pork, chicken, pickles, jellies and eggs from the Dunaways.

“All their products are great,” Collins said. “Everything they have is just top quality. ... They are very hard working, very customer-service oriented. ... The pricing is competitive.”

In about two weeks, the Dunaways expect to be able to sell canned goods from their website.

Kerry Dunaway said he attributes “a good bit of the success” of small community farmers to the Internet.

“People are researching the food chain,” he said. “The two questions new customers ask us about our meats are: ‘What do you feed them?’ and ‘How do you treat them?’ ”

He said if people have any doubts, he invites them to the farm. No chemicals are fed to the animals, and “they see we treat our animals humanely. ... Everything has its own pasture, has its own space.

“I think by sharing what we do and how we do it with customers, it’s gotten them more comfortable with our process. There is just a disconnect between consumers and agriculture.”

A lot of people don’t understand where their food comes from, he said. And most people are just accustomed to going to the grocery store for their food.

“This (farm) is nothing new,” he said. “We are just going back to the way things used to be done.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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