Echo Farm Puddings
Beth and Courtney Hodges
In 1987 Beth Hodges’ parents purchased 36 acres of beautiful farmland in Hinsdale, New Hampshire where they could keep a horse and a few sheep. Before long, they started a 4 H Club on the farm and their daughters, Beth and Courtney, began raising and showing cows.
It didn’t take long before a passion for dairy farming took hold of the two young women, who now run the farm and a thriving pudding business. Their father, Bob, a CPA and Financial Planner, keeps the finances in order and Bonnie, their mother helps whenever the need arises. They currently have a mix of about 100 jerseys and milking shorthorns and 80 young stock. Each cow is promptly given a name, one that often comes with a colorful story. Here are just a few of the current crop: Persnickety, Bellasa, Andromeda, Marlee, Mudpie, Cali and Shush.
In addition to supplying milk to Cabot, which goes into making The World’s Best Cheddar, Beth and Courtney’s popular Echo Farm Puddings has made a name for them as young entrepreneurs. The business was started as a dream and has turned into a popular New England brand. How can anyone resist the creamy goodness of pudding flavors like Miracle’s Chocolate, Royal’s Rice, Ticket’s Tapioca, or Lolly’s Butterscotch?
Beth took the lead answering this weeks Farmer Friday questions:
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farm family?
We love the extended family that comes with being a dairy farm family. The cows need care 365 days a year and we couldn’t do it without our employees, most of whom are like family to us. We’ve been the first job for over 50 teenagers since our first cow calved 23 years ago. (That includes both my sister and me!) Most of these teenagers started as 4-H-ers, leasing and showing calves with us. They bring an incredible amount of enthusiasm and passion to the farm. We feel a lot of pride in knowing that between 4-H and their work on our farm, they often end up wanting a life-long career in agriculture. In so many cases, these kids become like little sisters to us. (Did I mention that most of our employees are girls?) Farm work is often tough and always dirty and the employees get to experience the ups and downs right beside us, seeing us at our best and at our worst. We love getting to be there for their highs and lows as well. We’ve even brought cows to high school graduations. Just as they celebrate our successes and help us get through our failures, we do the same for them, just like family!
What is your family’s favorite meal? Care to share a recipe?
We generally love our comfort foods and one of our favorite meals is Beth’s favorite chicken, with homemade Macaroni and Cheese. This chicken dish is easy and the perfect thing for a day you need to warm up. Start with 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup mixed with one 16 oz. container of Cabot sour cream, mix together and pour over chicken breasts. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, remove the cover and finish baking for the last 30 minutes.
What is your least favorite farm chore?
Luckily, most of the jobs are not universally disliked. If there’s something I don’t like to do, many times it’s something that my sister or an employee likes to do. With our pudding business, we also have some unique jobs that are liked in varying degrees by us. We find that we can get through the less pleasant jobs by making light of them. In the pudding plant, we take turns doing our least favorite job, which we refer to as the “flip monkey” job. The puddings come off the production line quickly and the flip monkey gets to take them off the line, flip them over, and place them on a tray. It’s incredibly repetitive and we joke that you actually lose brain cells while doing it! Because we are a small family company, everyone has gotten an opportunity to play flip monkey. We all look forward to the shout of “kettle’s empty” and the cheer from everyone that means the job is nearly finished!
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
We all love show season the best! We still love to exhibit our cows at local and regional fairs and towards end of summer means show season is coming. There’s a lot of activity leading up to show season, with 4-Hers training and leading their show animals and we love seeing which heifers are shaping up to be competitive at the county fairs. It’s crazy to think about the amount of time and preparation that goes into taking the cows to a local fair but, for us, the showing is our hobby. We got our start with five 4-H heifers that we purchased and just couldn’t bear to part with and when it came time for them to have their first calf, we began milking. Thankfully, our parents were crazy enough to support us in this endeavor, helping us to build a business and a livelihood. In our family, we often refer to things as either B.C. or A.C. (before cows or after cows). Before Cows we might have gone to some exotic locale for a family vacation. (Florida is exotic in our family.) After Cows, our vacations became our time at the fairs. Most years, show season culminates in our trip to the Big E where we see the fiercest competition (think Westminster Kennel Club for cows). The best day at Big E is move-in day, when we unload the cows and set up our displays. Every year, we get to see friends we haven’t seen since last year’s Big E and we spend time catching up and sizing up the competition. This year will mark our 25th year showing at the Big E, a milestone for us. And it will be Courtney’s son, Colton’s, fourth year at the show and her daughter, Honor’s, first. We’ve watched our farmer friends’ lives change and families grow, we’ve seen farms get bigger and we’ve seen some who just couldn’t keep farming but what unites us all is being a part of providing the milk for New England. Dairy Farming in New England is a small world, almost a family unto itself, and we’re so happy we chose to be a part of it!
What is the one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
What I’d like people to know is the diversity in the types of jobs that dairy farming supports, some of the crazy things that people may not realize. For instance, there are professional photographers that work full time taking photographs of cows. I’ve included one of the professional photos we had taken of our cow, Preamble, at the New York Spring Show in Syracuse, NY. We love unusual cow names on our farm. Preamble is the daughter of Justice and the granddaughter of Liberty. She has 2 sisters, Pursuit and ForAll (are you following our craziness… with Liberty and Justice For All!). It is always fascinating to us that there are people who spend their days working in agriculture but aren’t farmers. When we encourage our 4-Hers to pursue careers in agriculture, we talk about the diversity of jobs. Our first three college graduate “little sisters” are now working in the dairy industry. Rachael graduated from UCONN and works for the Holstein Association. Skylar and Ariel both went to Cornell and Skylar works for Dairy Farmers of America, a dairy cooperative like Cabot, in California and Ariel works as a dairy nutritionist for Land O’ Lakes. We’re excited to know that our little farm is helping to bring a new generation of kids to agriculture.