Both dairy farming and the world have changed over the century since 94 farmers around the town of Cabot each contributed $5 per cow and one cord of wood to fuel a cooperative creamery. Today, the Cabot Co-op is owned by more than 800 farm families across New England and New York and employs 1,000-plus people in four plants in three Northeast states. This year, the co-op celebrates its first hundred years—and looks forward to the next hundred!
Let’s take a quick trip back in our time machine and watch a century of history in the making.
They called them the Roaring Twenties thanks to a wave of social and political change. Women won a hard-fought battle for the right to vote. Aviator Charles Lindbergh made headlines with the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight and, on May 15, 1928, Mickey and Minnie Mouse made their film debut in Plane Crazy. The Model T got America on the road and, for the first time, more people lived in cities than on farms, providing an opportunity to craft and ship farm-fresh products like butter made by a newly hatched farmers’ co-op in Cabot, Vermont.
The Great Depression led to the New Deal during these turbulent ten years. The Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge both opened to great fanfare. Legendary hitter Babe Ruth retired from Major League Baseball, Clarence Birdseye invented frozen food and, on November 24, 1937, the Andrews Sisters recorded their first big hit. In Cabot, the co-op farmer-members started the decade with a surplus of milk, so they established a cheese room in the creamery and began making what would become their prize-winning cheddar.
World War II loomed large and Americans buckled down to make it through. To help, millions planted Victory Gardens to grow their own vegetables. Radio was big and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong spread the smooth sounds of jazz. The Slinky and Tupperware were invented and, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the major leagues as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The co-op community mourned several young men from their farm families lost to the war, but cows still needed to be milked and fields hayed. The purchase of the respected regional Rosedale dairy brand helped fuel post-war growth.
The post-war baby boom came with a side of space race and other technology landmarks including the polio vaccine and the first color televisions sold on December 30, 1953. Rosa Parks stood her ground and the Supreme Court ordered that all public schools be integrated. Ray Kroc dreamed up McDonald’s, Elvis Presley made a million teenagers swoon, and the Daytona 500 stock car race zoomed by for the first time. In keeping with the modern age, Cabot made a big investment in automation and more scientific and efficient methods of production and quality control.
This revolutionary era tested the nation with the Vietnam War, assassination of a President and a civil rights pioneer. Hawaii became the 50th star on the flag; the infamous federal prison, Alcatraz, saw its last inmates; and, on January 13, 1964, Beatlemania hit young America. “Gunsmoke” and “Bewitched” ran on the small screen and “Psycho” made movie patrons shudder. More people drove their Chevy Corvairs and Dodge Darts into the country to visit places like Vermont where Cabot had grown to a staff of 63 handling 5,000 vat loads of milk a year, as a New York Times travel feature detailed in 1961, praising the cheese for “its high standard of quality and its superb flavor.”
1976 marked the bicentennial celebration of the nation as it also dealt with challenges including Watergate and the energy crisis. On the cusp of the computer age, disco and “Star Wars” swept the country. “Wheel of Fortune” premiered, as did the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. The Bee Gees and the Jackson 5 got everyone dancing. Continuing to support its farmer-members, Cabot reached out to customers in a new way via mail order making “gem” cheeses, smaller versions of its traditional large 50 to 80-pound cheddars.
Americans watched closely as the Cold War with the Soviet Union thawed and the Berlin Wall fell. Rubik’s Cube and the Pac-Man video game were both hatched and a scrappy team of amateur U.S. hockey players earned the limelight followed by the gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics in what became known as the Miracle on Ice. Michael Jackson grew up to thrill us all with his “Thriller” video and, on June 18, 1983, astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. Cabot continued to build its business and its identity as a destination, opening a visitor center at the main central Vermont plant in 1987 and hosting a dairy festival there a couple years later.
This was the decade that the Internet started to change the world. Seattle “grunge” took the music and fashion worlds by storm, while “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” conquered television. Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA like no one had ever done and Harry Potter — who was introduced to the world on 26 June, 1997 — caught our collective imagination like no one had ever done. The Discman followed the Walkman, but was leapfrogged by the MP3 player. Cabot merged with Agri-Mark, expanding the co-op to include family farmers all over New England and New York. Innovators within the company got creative and dreamed up new and delicious flavored cheddars!
At the dawn of a new century, Y2K loomed but it was the events of September 11, 2001 that shook our foundation. Technology continued to connect us, with Facebook launching in 2004 and the iPhone three years later. “High School Musical” and hybrid cars both took off. On August 17, 2008, Michael Phelps won his eighth gold of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, becoming the most awarded Olympian of all time. In other championship news, Cabot products continued to win blue ribbons and proudly claimed the title of World’s Best Cheddar in 2006.
The world is only getting more global, more connected and more technology-focused. There are 3-D printers that can recreate a human ear, cars that drive themselves and, yes, even robots that milk cows. We can binge-watch our favorite series whenever we want, but millions of people tuned in together to “American Idol” over its record-setting fifteen-year run. People are making efforts to tread lightly, to give back, to unplug though tiny houses, a renewed interest in whole foods, and in community-building. In 2012, Cabot was the first dairy co-operative to achieve B-Corp certification, joining more than 2,000 B-Corps across 130 industries and 42 countries working together to drive positive change through the power of their business. And on the just-for-fun side, Cabot contributed to the Guinness World Record for the largest macaroni and cheese cooked September 23, 2010 in New Orleans using 286 pounds of cheese and 56 pounds of butter!