by Enrico Villamaino
They say there’s safety in numbers. There’s also security, sales and success.
That was the idea behind the formation of The Farmer’s Cow, a collective of six farms in Connecticut. The collective is comprised of Cushman Farm in Franklin, Fairvue Farm in Woodstock, Fort Hills Farms in Thompson, Graywall Farms in Lebanon, Hytone Farm in Coventry and Mapleleaf Farm in Hebron. Together, these farms pool their resources and efforts to bring local, naturally produced products to customers throughout southern New England and New York.
“It all started 16 years ago,” said Jim Smith, owner and operator of Cushman Farm. The Smiths got their agricultural start when Jim’s grandfather first opened the family farm in the 1930s. “I literally grew up in this business,” Jim laughed. As Jim took the reins at Cushman, he started working more closely with other local farmers.
“We had been working together loosely and calling ourselves ‘Very Alive,’ as a way of explaining that the local dairy business in the state was very much alive. We decided to formalize our group in 2004 into ‘The Farmer’s Cow’ so that we would be better able to get our products into the bigger local chains, and to lobby for our joint causes, such as open space preservation and farmland protections,” he said.
Another reason for the farms to work in tandem is their joint commitment to cow comfort. Cow comfort dictates that proper treatment of cows is not only more humane and will provide a better quality of life for the herd, but will result in increased productivity as well. The six main tenets of cow comfort include providing cows with access to clean palatable water at least 21 hours per day, at least six hours of light (preferably sunlight) per day, fresh air, a dry and comfortable place to lie down for at least 12 hours per day, adequate space for cows to walk to feed and water troughs and well-formulated feed at least 21 hours per day. Jim said the collective’s commitment to cow comfort is much appreciated by their customers.
The Farmer’s Cow is run by a nine-member board consisting of representatives from each of the six member farms. Jim is currently the chair of the board and a managing member.
By pooling their resources, the collective’s products are sold in retail locations throughout the region under the “Farmer’s Cow” label.
“Our milk, half and half and eggs are sold in the Stop & Shop and Big Y chains,” explained Jim. “The eggs in particular are our best seller. Those chains also carry our seasonal beverages, our iced tea and our lemonade in the summer and our eggnog in the winter. Our 12 flavors of ice cream are sold in Walgreens and CVS.”
Ten years ago, the collective expanded their scope of operations with the creation of “The Farmer’s Cow Calfé & Creamery,” a restaurant located in Mansfield, CT. Hungry customers line up at the “calfé” for breakfast, wraps, panini, soups, salads and ice cream sundaes. The restaurant has also branched into catering and offers a variety of party platters.
Having only just tapped the potential that partnering provides, Jim is hopeful that there are more profitable possibilities to pursue. “Right now, each farm makes its purchases individually, but we are exploring the benefits of making group buys… Increased buying power is definitely something we’re interested in learning more about.”
Looking for more variety in what they vend, the collective has made an effort to diversify. “We’re going to be offering applesauce, cheeses and honey in the future,” he said. “We’re also looking at opening our own retail location and getting into online sales.”
Jim is sanguine about their future: “Whatever we do next, it’ll be a team effort.”