WOOD COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Life on a picturesque dairy farm in East Texas may seem like a quiet, idyllic life; the kind of life many might only dream of.
However, for NaRisa Waldo, it is her real life, and though it's sometimes quiet out in rural Wood County, it is far from boring.
Ris, as she is known to friends, has not been a dairy farmer all her life. In fact, she has her PhD in nursing and spent eight years as a professor at UT Tyler, but she says she began to feel unfulfilled.
"I had reached a professional plateau," says Ris, "but it was not fulfilling me anymore. I taught for eight years at the university, and just left this past June. I spent a summer thinking, 'where do I want to go? What do I want to be when I grow up?"
How does one go from a successful career as a professor to running a dairy farm?
"People ask me all that all the time; how do you get from being a professor to here, being a milkmaid?" she laughed. "And I tell them it's a whole life journey."
"I was tired of talking about illness. I wanted to talk about prevention and wellness. I wanted to be a part of education about health and nutrition. So I sat down and made a business plan for a boutique dairy where I would sell raw milk and feature local products made or grown by local people."
Part of her plan was confirmed, in a way, by a dream Ris had one night some time ago about her deceased grandmother.
"Things fell into place about two years ago. I saw my grandmother in a dream, and she said to me, 'Make my cheese!' She had this cheese that only she could make. She had talked about how people came from all over to get "mom's cheese."
Ris then found an article that her grandmother had written in a 1967 issue of The Dairyman's Journal, all about making mom's special cheese.
However, Ris didn't know exactly how to make that special cheese.
Perhaps providentially, she made a discovery, she says, tucked inside a cookbook.
"I stumbled across where she had left her secret ingredients for her cheese for me to find in a book one day. And I did find it, at the perfect time!"
Ris says the first ingredient in the recipe was raw milk, but she didn't know where to find it. As she began to research, she found that raw milk had become legal in the state of Texas. And not only that; she says she also discovered more about the health benefits of raw milk, which is simply milk which is not heat-pasteurized.
"Pasteurized milk is essentially dead. Milk is born alive with enzymes and probiotics, but heat kills it. We have also bred cows to produce quantity over quality, then we add chemicals to preserve it," Ris says."Raw milk is highest in probiotics, and the right fat, so you can absorb the nutrients you need. Fat also satiates the appetite, so you feel full longer."
After researching types of cows, Ris says she chose Guernseys because, not only are they beautiful to look at, but Ris says they are also the only dairy cow breed that has not been genetically modified to produce more volume.
"Commercial dairymen need volume, so other breeds have been modified at the cellular level to produce quantity, not quality," she says."But the milk of Guernseys is creamy, and it's golden because it's full of healthy beta carotene. And the fat floats right to the top, because it's not been processed and treated. It also has more of vitamins B1 and B12 and is lower in cholesterol than any milk, and it has A2 protein, which no other milk has."
The first Guernseys at Waldo Way Dairy Farm came from Wisconsin, and the second "girls," as she refers to them, came from Iowa. They graze happily on grass on 70 acres of land that Ris bought as a single mom back in 2000. She and her children worked together on the land, which at the time was just trees and grass.
Ris with son Trenton
She married a year and a half later, and husband Bruce, who travels home on weekends from his job in the medical field in Arizona, is part of helping Ris live her passion on the dairy farm. "He is fully immersed in the work here, too," she said.
True to her dream, Ris has a store at the farm where she and her son Trenton Montgomery sell their milk, yogurt, cheese and homemade soap. They also have products brought in by neighbors within just a few miles of the farm, including eggs, grass-fed beef, honey and baked goods. They will add local produce in the spring and summer, she said. Ris also has her own blueberry bushes on the property.
Ris and Trenton love the variety of people they get to meet and know through their venture.
"We really don't have one crowd who comes here. We have18-year-olds who come out with five bucks who will buy yogurt, and they love it and tell their friends, who come out to buy it, too," Trenton said.
Ris agrees, and when asked about folks' reaction to the higher price tag here than in the grocery store chains, she said, "People of all kinds come and are willing to pay for quality, we've found. We have customers from all walks of life here - educated and uneducated, very young, like Trent said, to very old people who are reminded of growing up with these cows. We have bank presidents and young families with children and even hippies. Just people from all walks of life. I have not had anyone complain about our prices, they're just so happy with the product!"
Ris and Trenton say that people also want to support local business, and they want to feel that old-fashioned sense of connection that comes from knowing the people from whom they buy their food.
The sense of passion that Ris has is what has changed her life. I asked Ris what she would say to other women about following their passion, whether they're single moms like she was when she bought her land back in 2000, or women in midlife who feel unfulfilled in their current career.
"I'd say... fear is out there. That will always be there. Every day I wake up and "re-decide" for today to do this. My business changes every day. There are no guarantees in life, and it really is a leap of faith."
"Some things are out of your control," she adds, "but you have to be ok with that and pray…diligently pray… that you do the right thing each day. I believe if we have our customers' hearts and best interest in mind, we'll be ok."
Waldo Way will have cheese, yogurt and other goods available for sale beginning in May at the new Rose City Farmers Market. The market will be held in the parking lot of the new Jul's restaurant. The raw milk, by Texas law, can only be purchased at the farm.
You can visit Waldo Way Dairy Farm's Facebook page here, or call 903-245-9673 for more information about hours and products.