A Rhode Island Family Fueled by a Passion for Farming—and Coffee Milk!
Anyone who’s been to Rhode Island knows about coffee milk, the flavored milk that is a beloved state tradition. “It tastes like melted coffee ice cream,” says Alexandra (Alex) LaPrise.
Alex is involved in coffee milk in a number of ways. She works on EMMA Acres, her family’s small dairy farm in Exeter, Rhode Island with the milking herd of about 40 cows, mostly Jerseys. She’s also the managing director of the Rhody Fresh co-operative that sources milk from a handful of the state’s remaining dairy farms to make and market locally branded milk (including coffee milk, of course) and other dairy products in their communities.
All profits are returned back to the co-op, just like they are to members of the co-operative behind the Cabot brand, to which the LaPrises also belong and to which they ship milk beyond the needs of Rhody Fresh.
As the Rhody Fresh website points out, regional dairy farms are disappearing: “Not that long ago there were 80 dairy farms in Rhode Island. Since then, many of them have gone out of business. It’s a problem faced by agriculture in many areas across the country.”
In Rhode Island, as in other regions near urban populations, the low price of milk on the commodity market coupled with the pressure to develop land and an aging farmer population, has made the economic model challenging to maintain.
Rhody Fresh is just one way that the community can support family-operated dairy farms, the local economy and the preservation of farmland and open space.
This summer, the LaPrise family will offer another way through their new farm store, Alex explains. The new building will be next to the calf barn and offer a full line of Rhody Fresh and Cabot products as well as local beef, pork and honey and some other products like Echo Farm puddings, from another Cabot farm in New Hampshire. Gardeners will be able to purchase rich bagged compost and cow manure.
In addition to bringing in some income to help pay farm bills, Alex explains, the new store will draw more people to the farm to help them see what a working dairy looks like. “We believe strongly in helping to educate the public,” she says. “Most people are at least three generation removed from the farm. This gives them a chance to see our cows, how we treat them. We’re right down the road from them.”
EMMA Acres is a relatively young farm, celebrating its decade anniversary this year, but the family is as devoted as any to keeping their small dairy farm going. Cynthia and Scooter LaPrise and their four children — Elizabeth, Matthew, Alex and Maggie – focused on dairy after years of 4-H and running a menagerie of beef cows, sheep and turkeys on their 12-acre farm. The farm is named after the first initials of the four kids.
“It became such a passion of ours. It was mostly for the love of it,” Alex says. “These cows are part of our family.”
Cynthia grew up on a dairy farm in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and values the role that farmers can play in the community. “We have people come to visit our farm pretty regularly and when they visit I always want them to know that we care a lot about our animals,” she says. “I tell them how much time we put into making sure they have a well-balanced diet and clean living conditions. I love for visitors to watch us milk and in fact encourage them to come at milking time. This way they see the effort we put into making quality milk. I believe people should know where their food comes from and how farmers work so hard to be good stewards of their land and good caretakers of their animals.”
The family knows that they are lucky that both Scooter and Cynthia LaPrise have off-farm jobs, as a trucking company owner and registered nurse respectively, that enable them to get through the leaner times. Elizabeth has followed in her mother’s footsteps and is also a nurse, while Matthew has a logging business. Maggie is finishing her first year of college and puts in the most hours at the farm along with Alex, but everyone helps out.
Alex’s three-year-old daughter, Reagan, loves the cows, her mom says with evident joy. “She loves to help fill water buckets. She tries to do everything and she was so proud to show her first calf last year,” Alex says, noting that she made quite a fashion statement in her required white pants with the addition of pink cowboy boots. “There’s just no better way to grow up.”