FarmLove – The McDonald Farm

It was 1919 when 94 central Vermont farmers joined forces to turn their surplus milk into butter. Each contributed $5 per cow and one cord of wood to fuel the cooperative venture in a creamery in the small town of Cabot. A century later, the co-op has grown to over 800 farmer-owners and the McDonald Farm in Danville has the distinction of being the sole representative of the original 94. 

Farmer James Beattie—a McDonald on his grandmother’s side—believes his family was either the third or fourth to join the co-op. The farm was settled by his Scottish ancestors in 1839. “My kids make it seven generations on the farm,” he says proudly.

Growing up, James spent most of his spare time on the farm where his paternal grandmother, Catherine (Kate) McDonald Beattie, had raised her 10 children, along with four from her husband’s first marriage. “She was born and died in the same room of the farmhouse,” James says. Kate was legendary for her hard work, commitment to farming, and her community involvement. “She had one of her kids between chores,” her grandson continues. “She milked that morning, told the hired hand she had to go, went to the hospital, had the baby and came back home that night.” 

Kate McDonald Beattie’s 2014 obituary lists many accomplishments and accolades including the Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station’s “Unsung Hero” award, inauguration into the Vermont Agricultural Hall of Fame, and the Vermont Farm Bureau President’s Award for her many years of service to that organization. The family continues her legacy of public service; two of her daughters currently serve in the state legislature, as she did also. 

In addition, “Kate was known for her hospitality,” the obituary reads. “Carrying on the Vermont farm tradition, her home was open to everyone in the community and even those just passing by. No one could leave her kitchen without being given something to eat.” A renowned cook, Kate’s recipes were published in Yankee magazine; she was especially known for her maple pie, also featured by the Food Network. Her grandson recalls that Cabot cottage cheese was a favorite of Kate’s and he inherited a fondness for it. “I can sit and eat a whole container of it straight,” he says with a laugh. 

James notes that both his grandmother and her sister were married in the family house, which dates back to 1874. He and his wife, Lyndsay, are gratified to be able to raise their own two daughters in the historic home. The center downstairs room, where the weddings took place, is still anchored by the original elaborate brass chandelier and an elegant birdseye maple staircase. “My grandmother put in writing that those could never be changed,” James says.   

Other things on the farm have changed, of course. The family milked only about three dozen cows when James was growing up; today, the 110 milkers live in a new barn built in 2013, while the young stock are in an older barn that dates back to 1896. “I always hoped to end up on the farm,” James says. “It was fun, a lot of freedom. Helping on the farm felt important. I liked the responsibility; it teaches to you a lot.”   

Although he doesn’t dwell on it, James takes his heritage quite seriously. “Keeping the history going,” he says, “was definitely part of the drive.” Another factor is the satisfaction of watching his girls grow up around the animals and farm like he did, and knowing they appreciate how deep their roots go. “They get it,” James says, “but we don’t push. We’ll let them choose it on their own.” 

Learn more about our co-operative of farm families.

Comments (16)

Mark Leisen | April 02, 2019 | 4:11pm

Fantastic story. Thanks for sharing.

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:30pm

    Thanks for reading Mark! Our farmers appreciate your support 🙂 ~Rachael

Pam Parkinson | April 02, 2019 | 4:52pm

Thank you. What a wonderful story. James and his family should be very proud! Grandmother Kate was quite a woman!

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:29pm

    We’re glad you enjoyed the piece Pam! Thanks for your support of our farm family owners 🙂 ~Rachael

Alfred Watson | April 02, 2019 | 4:58pm

Well, old MacDonald had a farm. And here it is.

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:29pm

    Well isn’t that the truth! 🙂

Joyce Webb | April 02, 2019 | 5:20pm

Happy Birthday to Cabot farmers!! I don’t know what I’d do without you. Cabot brand particular through and through!! Keep up the good work guys! (and can I get that Maple Cream pie recipe???)

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:28pm

    Hi Joyce, glad you enjoyed the piece, and we appreciate your support! We don’t have the recipe to share for this pie, I think you’ll have to head to the Creamery Restaurant in Danville Vermont to try this special pie! We do have a Maple Cheesecake recipe on our site, a recipe from another Vermont Cabot Farmer! Thanks again! ~Rachael

David Bennett | April 02, 2019 | 7:27pm

Cool family history. My paternal ancestors that settled in New England were Scots too. They arrived in the early 1600’s. I too am a farmer but raise waterfowl and chickens for eggs and meat. My question has to do with the entire cooperative Is Soy & Corn used in the feeding of the Dairy Herds? That is my only concern.

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:26pm

    Hi David, we’re glad you found the piece interesting! Every farmer has a slightly different process. Most try to grow most of their hay and silage for feeding. Some are organic, some are not. It really depends on the farm and the region, as there are over 800 farms in the co-operative across New York and New England. Thanks again for your interest! ~Rachael

Daphne Turner | April 04, 2019 | 4:57pm

Any chance that Maple Cream Pie recipe is one you share? I checked out the magazine article as well as the Creamery website and although her pie is highly touted (and I see some details such as you use dark syrup and lard in the crust), I can’t access the recipe anywhere.

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:22pm

    Hi Daphne, thanks for your interest! That’s not Cabot’s recipe to share! I think you’ll need to make a trip to the Creamery Restaurant to get your hands on this pie! We have some other great recipes on our site, like this maple cheesecake recipe from another Cabot farmer in Vermont: The Couture’s! ~Rachael

Karen R. | April 05, 2019 | 5:06am

What a delightful story! I love Cabot Creamery and have the utmost respect for the farmers. We used to visit the main store when we lived in northern NH several times a year. It’s a beautiful drive through the rolling hills and along the river. Now that I live in northern CT, I am always happy that I can purchase Cabot products in the grocery store.

    Rachael | April 05, 2019 | 12:18pm

    Thank you so much Karen – your support means the world to our farmer owners! ~Rachael

cindy buzduhanov | April 25, 2019 | 2:24pm

i like the butter was on a visit try your butter never liked it before your is the only one i like but i live in i’ll can not get it my sister lives in fla can get it but got stopped by tsa getting harder to get. any way i can get in IL

Barbara Willcox Swan | September 01, 2019 | 8:56pm

Enjoyed reading your story. I was born in Cabot and grew up listening to stories of the creamery as my Dad was the bookkeeper there, 1938-1941. We moved to Boston when he got a job with the Federal Milk Market Administration but he continued to visit the dairy farms of Vermont as an auditor. Vermont will always have a soft spot in my heart and Cabot products are the best,

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