by Karen Van Wyk
Farming is not a “get rich quick” business but a business which at its foundation excels in other values such as family stability, healthy pride and community responsibility. The James family story depicts these values precisely.
Richard and Marjorie James began their farm in 1929 with 21 acres, bottling milk in their basement and peddling it to town patrons. Eighty-eight years later, the farm is still in business and named Monument Farms. It has grown to be Vermont’s signature name in local milk production, bottling and distribution. How have they stayed and prospered in business for so many years?
Many times farms struggle when the farmer grows old and has no family to take over. The land can be worth more in a lump sale than working it can be, and this happens many times with farms that do not continue on. Lucrative careers beckon many young people to explore other promising paths; however, these were not the deciding circumstances for the James family.
Third generation farmers Jon, Peter and Robert James are the current owners. Before them were Richard and Marjorie’s children Steve and Millie, and Millie’s husband Jim Rooney. One theme seen through these generations as a focal point on the farm is the care for the cows. They are not considered machines but are well cared. Monument Farms takes advantage of the newest technologies to always improve the lives of the cows at the core of their business.
Production has grown steadily over the years and through the generations. The work atmosphere is busy yet organized. Today the business is divided and handled in three sectors: Peter runs the barns and fields, Robert is in charge of distribution and advertising and Jon manages the bottling plant. In 88 years the farm has grown from 21 to 2,200 acres and has increased to processing about 70,000 pounds of milk a day from approximately 500 primarily Holstein cows.
Farming is hard work and strong motivation is needed in order to continue for so many years.
Peter and Robert are cousins to Jon and they all feel pride in what their parents and grandparents laid a foundation with and built upon. All three men have a shared commitment to continue to make it work. There is a fourth generation in place as Robert’s sons Dan and Ben are already involved and plan to remain.
The uniqueness of the farm lies in the on-site transformation from birth to bottle. The cows are born, bred and milked, and the milk is bottled there. Long ago they delivered to homes but since then their markets have expanded to restaurants and stores up and down the Champlain Valley.
When asked if they will continue growing to deliver to more areas, the practical issue of many moving parts in the business must also change: more milk means more sales and hence more crops and more land. The stability created by the James’ grandparents could certainly continue, with a family business remaining strong in an increasingly disengaged and corporate world.
Since prices are based upon the cost of production, Monument Farms has competitors, but one area in which they don’t need to compete is in producing a long-standing reliable product created and bottled at one location by a family that has been there for generations. Their 45 employees who are members of the community add to that.
When considering farming stability, community, generational owners and workers who set the foundation for an excellent product, Monument Farms and the James family are wonderful examples of these admirable and prosperous methods.