Sometimes when she’s at the grocery store, Kies Orr just can’t help herself from approaching strangers to say thank you.
“It’s such a good feeling when I see one of our products in someone’s cart,” she says. “I’ll walk up and thank them for supporting local farmers.”
Kies grew up on her family’s Fort Hill Farms in the quiet northeastern Connecticut town of Thompson. The Orrs belong to the co-op behind the Cabot brand and are also part of a small group of farmers—several of whom are fellow co-op members—who process and market their own line of dairy products under The Farmer’s Cow brand.
Fort Hill Farms has been named “Best of New England” by Yankee magazine. In the summer, the farm smells of lavender; in the fall, pumpkins take the stage. Winter is eggnog time! Click To Tweet
“It really melts my heart when I see people choosing Cabot or Farmer’s Cow, and they seem to appreciate when I say something,” Kies says. “Very often they’re surprised. I think that connection means a lot to them.”
Kies came back to work full-time on the family farm with her mother, Kristin, and father, Peter, after earning a degree in agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill. Her sister, Lily, studied environmental science at University of Connecticut and now works for the Connecticut Farmland Trust. Sadly, Peter passed away earlier this year and the family is more committed than ever to keeping the farm vibrant and vital in his memory.
It was 1942 when Kristin’s grandparents purchased their first 92 acres and began milking cows, somewhat by accident when they received a cow in place of cash payment. Much of the land that they own today has been in continuous agricultural production for more than 300 years. Impressive stone walls dating back to the late 1800s border the property.
By the time she was 12 years old, Kristin knew she was going to be a farmer. “My father used to wake me up each morning at quarter to four to milk the cows,” she recalls. “He would tell me that if I didn’t get up and milk the cows, the kids in the city wouldn’t have any milk to drink.”
The Orrs have kept Fort Hill going with a wide range of activities including Kristin’s beloved lavender business and gardens, a corn maze, an annual fall pumpkin festival and a small store with a scoop shop offering The Farmer’s Cow ice cream. The farm has been named “Best in New England” by Yankee Magazine, among other national media accolades.
On the diversified farm, there are many balls to juggle. In partnership with her boyfriend Jared LaVack, Kies works closely with her mother to keep them all in the air. “She’s the farmgirl. She’s something else,” says Kristin. “It’s saving 1,200 acres of farmland. It’s our passion.”
From the peak of Fort Hill, three states are visible. “When people drive in and come over the hill, they sometimes stop short, it’s so beautiful,” says Kristin. Recent visitors have come from as far away as Serbia and all seem to appreciate the peaceful, pastoral beauty.
“People always ask about the next generation,” Kies reflects, “and I say, ‘Yes, there’s a next generation and you’re looking at it.’”
A rich taste of holiday cheer
The Farmer’s Cow offers seasonal eggnog that’s so good, Kristin Orr says, “You could just pick it up and drink it all down.” At Fort Hill’s store, along with a full line of dairy and Cabot cheese, the Orrs scoop Farmer’s Cow ice cream, including eggnog ice cream during the winter.
Kristin also deploys the ice cream in what she proudly calls “eggstraordinary eggnog ice cream pies.” They boast a classic graham cracker crust and are crowned to order with freshly whipped Farmer’s Cow heavy cream.
We’re thinking maybe Santa might enjoy a warm wedge of that drizzled with maple syrup as a break from all those cookies.