KEYSVILLE, Ga. --- Bill Boyce loves the smell of wood smoke and the telltale hiss of chicken grilled to perfection.
"I still don't fish, still don't hunt and still don't play golf," he said. "But I sure love to cook."
Boyce and his wife, Carolyn, opened Country Boys Cooking in 2005 after spending most of their lives operating a family dairy established by Bill's father in 1947.
Today, the dairy, its 1,400 cows and almost 700 acres are gone.
The Boyces spent years trying to advance their claims that improperly treated sewage sludge -- applied to their land by City of Augusta officials as free fertilizer -- caused the downfall of their dairy by poisoning both cattle and soil.
A $550,000 jury award in June 2003 left the family, in the words of their lawyer, "vindicated but not compensated."
The award was a fraction of the $12.5 million in damages sought by the family in a trial that was watched nationally because of its implications on federal rules governing the use of sludge as fertilizer.
The end of the trial heralded the end of an era for the Burke County family.
"In September 2003, we milked our last cow," Boyce said. "We took a few weeks, made some decisions and shut the place down."
Today, the family continues to work together in a business venture that is -- literally -- in their own backyard.
Their loyal diners hail from as far east as Aiken and as far west as Thomson.
"We travel and cater a lot, too," Boyce said.
Each Thursday through Sunday, Boyce mans the smokers and grills. Friends and visitors gather nearby to chat and watch the meat turn to barbecue.
"Carolyn is the dessert expert," Boyce said. "I run things in the back."
Carolyn spends much of her time helping customers and making things such as red velvet cake, Key lime pie, banana pudding, peach cobbler -- even Butterfinger cake.
"We make just about anything people ask for," she said.
Although the dairy is gone, the memories are as close as the restaurant's rustic walls, which include framed portraits of some of the family's best cows.
There was a Holstein named Dixie -- an Augusta Exchange Club Fair champion for seven consecutive years; Alabama and Annell, both grand champions at the State Black & White show; and Haybo, a multiple winner in Georgia's State Championship.
"There's some things I don't miss about the dairy, but I sure do miss my good cows," Boyce said. "Through all of this, I never dreamed we could win the lawsuit, but still lose the farm."
Country Boys Cooking is tucked behind the Boyce home on Story Mill Road between Hephzibah and Waynesboro, Ga.
About this series
Have you ever wanted to know what became of a local celebrity or a hot issue that once dominated the news in the area?
The Augusta Chronicle provides answers to readers' requests in its regular series, 'Whatever happened to ...' Today, we look at the Boyce family, who won $550,000 from the City of Augusta in 2003 for a controversial fertilizer program that they claimed poisoned their dairy herd.
Requests can be e-mailed to email@example.com or mailed to The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA, 30903-1928, Attn: Mike Wynn, or placed in the online comment section.
Timeline of Boyceland Dairy's final years
NOVEMBER 1998: Two dairy farms, R.A. McElmurray & Sons of Hephzibah and Boyceland Dairy of Keysville, Ga., sued Augusta-Richmond County, blaming crop damage and cattle mortality on toxic metals from sewage sludge, a byproduct of the city's wastewater treatment program. From the 1980s to the early 1990s, the material from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant was irrigated onto agricultural fields as a fertilizer supplement.
OCTOBER 1999: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at the request of Georgia congressmen, opened an investigation into the city's sludge program in a case that garnered national attention over concern that federal standards for applying sludge to agricultural lands were inadequate. Biosolids proponents countered that federal standards were adequate, but raised the possibility Augusta might not have followed those standards in the program's early years.
AUGUST 2000: Both federal lawsuits were dismissed in favor of the city, which immediately took steps to force both farm families to repay portions of the $1.2 million spent by city officials defending the cases.
FEBRUARY 2001: A new lawsuit was filed by Boyceland Dairy and four members of the Boyce family, this time in Richmond County Superior Court. Filings contend mortality among the Boyce dairy herd increased more than 300 percent from 1996 to 1998, after the city applied at least 23.4 million gallons of sludge to their lands in previous years.
JUNE 2003: Jury selection began in a case in which the Boyces sought $12.5 million in damages, including $3.3 million for lost milk production, $1.7 million for lost land productivity, $562,000 for lost income from cattle, $439,000 for veterinary bills, $343,000 for replacement of dead cows and $494,000 for replacement of contaminated fodder.
JUNE 24, 2003: After a contentious, two-week trial, jurors awarded $550,000 to the Boyce family. The award was a victory, but fell far short of the $12.5 million the family said it needed to help their dairy recover from its problems. "We won the case but lost the farm,'' said a tearful Carolyn Boyce.
OCTOBER 2003: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was petitioned by national environmental groups to halt all land-application programs involving sewage sludge, based in part on the $550,000 award to the Boyce family.
SEPTEMBER 2003: The Boyce family permanently closed the dairy that Bill Boyce's father, Hugh Boyce, opened in 1947.
FEBRUARY 2004: The remaining lawsuit by R.A. McElmurray & Sons was dismissed in the city's favor. The issue of whether the sludge poisoned the cows was never explored before a jury; the summary judgment in the city's favor noted that a four-year statute of limitations had expired.
JANUARY 2005: The Boyce family opened their new restaurant, Country Boys Cooking.