Success Stories: The Farmer's Cow
You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to get one past the farmers of The Farmer's Cow.
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It was just milk, the ultimate featureless commodity, collected by tanker trucks from dairy farms across the region, processed and bottled under names like Hood or Guida or Garelick, or supermarket brands like Stop & Shop or Whole Foods. Then in 2005, a new brand showed up in dairy cases, The Farmer’s Cow. “Fresh Connecticut Milk,” said a tagline under the name.
One side of the cartons carried a story about why the milk was unique. “The First Milk of the Day” from six Connecticut farms, it said. A picture of the farmers and the farm names was splashed across another side. Most striking of all was the new product’s eye-catching branding image—an artist’s charming rendition of a Holstein against a backdrop of pastoral rolling green hills and a stone wall—drawn from photos taken on a Lebanon farm.
In short order, The Farmer’s Cow has become a symbol of how creativity and ingenuity can pump new life into Connecticut’s agricultural economy, often said to be in demise. If it’s a stretch to suggest the brand has become a household name, it isn’t one to say its milk and other products sell across the state, and even in parts of New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, both in retail and wholesale markets.
Structured as a privately held partnership, the company won’t divulge sales or revenue numbers, but Robin Chesmer, one of the farmers and the company’s managing member, says growth continues at an estimated 20 percent annually.
One reason for that has been the steady release of new products, often in partnership with other local farmers or family-run businesses. After milk, the company added half-and-half and heavy cream. Then eggs, ice cream, apple cider and a line of summer drinks, including iced tea and lemonade. A year ago, it began marketing coffee—regular and “de-calf.”
Last summer, the group opened its first café, featuring all its own products and many other locally sourced ones such as Beltane Farm goat cheese and Chabaso ciabatta. It’s called—what else?—The Farmer’s Cow Calfé & Creamery. Its planned “soft” opening one August morning near the popular East Brook Mall in Mansfield attracted a long line out the door from before noon until nearly 11 p.m., when manager Justeen Bligh finally closed the shop. Normally, it’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Besides selling what Farmer’s Cow farmers say are wholesome, natural, local and fresh products, Chesmer says they’re also selling two intangibles: authenticity and a sense of place.