“I love this brand, I love what we stand for,” says Beth Kennett, who runs Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, VT with her husband and two sons. “As a farm family I am very proud to say we are part of Cabot. Most Cabot farmers think likewise. It really is good cheese, and good butter.”
There is no one profile of a Cabot owner-farmer. Read More >
There are 1200 families who own Cabot Creamery and “they vary in size from perhaps 20 cows to over 1000,” says John Malcolm, a retired dairy farmer in Pawlet, VT, who now serves as a member of Vermont’s legislature. When he farmed, he milked around 50 cows, and had another 60 in his herd, and it was a business he had operated for 34 years, even longer if you count the years he spent growing up on his family-owned dairy farm. Malcolm knows what attracts a farmer to a co-op: “You won’t hear, ‘sorry, we can’t take your milk today.’ Sell on the open market and you may hear that.” A cooperative such as Cabot promises to take all its members milk (individual farmers have the option to hold back small quantities for personal businesses such as artisanal cheesemaking or raw milk sales – this accounts for a tiny portion of the milk produced on Cabot members’ farms). That security of knowing there will be a purchaser for a highly perishable commodity is a big lure for Cabot Creamery members.
One common reality of dairy farming: “It’s a 100-hour a week job,” says Malcolm, who still recalls long years spent working seven days a week, no vacations, and always wrestling with the thin and frequently volatile profit margins on fluid milk. That is a real plus for Cabot, incidentally, which puts roughly 60 percent of the milk it buys into value-added products (cheese, butter, yogurt); the remaining 40 percent is sold as milk, by various labels in New England and New York State. Milk is a commodity product – there’s little an individual producer can do to impact the price he gets per gallon – but cheese and butter, on the other hand, are very different. Premium, award-winning products – such as Cabot’s – fetch better prices.
“Milk is milk. Cabot cheese is a premium product,” says Paul Percy, a dairy farmer and Cabot member in Stowe, VT., who has around 600 cows.
“I wear my Cabot hat with real pride,” says Paul Doton, a fourth-generation dairy farmer who milks 60 cows in Woodstock VT. Read More >
“The hat triggers conversation, too,” says Doton, who adds that when he wears it on airplanes, for instance, there generally are a lot of compliments for the cheese. “It’s exciting to know we are part of something people like so much.”
Like many Cabot farmer-owners, Doton says that the dairy operation does not provide him with sufficient income. Most New England dairy farmers operate side businesses (Beth Kennett, for instance, operates a successful b&b for vacationers who crave a stay on a working Vermont farm). In Doton’s case, he also sells maple syrup and fire wood, he plows snow in the winter for neighbors, and in summer he runs a self-serve vegetable stand. “There’s a money box, customers pay for what they take.” Customers pick out the sweet corn they want, shove a few dollars in the money box, and off they go.
Sound strange? Maybe that just is rural Vermont – but it also is the kind of mindset that underlies a lot of what makes Cabot a special kind of company. “We are farmer owned, and when people – customers – find that out, they like it,” says Percy. “They like that the money they spend is going back to supporting family-owned farms, many of them small.”
Will this kind of farming carry on? Can it? Paul Doton has little doubt. “When my son was in kindergarten he told us he wanted to be a dairy farmer. He’s 23 now and, yes, he will take over my farm.”
Paul Percy says the same: “My son will take over this farm.”
Keep asking and you keep hearing the same answer: the farm will stay in the family, we will keep on raising Jersey and/or Holstein cows – the breeds selected by Cabot – and the family will continue its membership in the Cabot Creamery cooperative.
“We have a say in where the business is going,” says Kennett, whose two sons are already actively involved in managing the family farm. “We are farmer-owners, involved in management decisions. There’s real power in owning. That’s the Cabot difference.”