Whittier Farms: A Diversified, Fifth Generation Dairy Farm
90 Douglas Rd, Sutton, MA
Begun in 1945 Whittier Farm is a diversified Dairy Farm with deep ties to its community and devotion to sustainable agriculture. We recently had the opportunity to visit Whittier Farm and spend time with Sam Whittier, the fifth-generation farmer who, along with her brother John recently returned to the farm to follow in their parents’ footsteps and carve new paths toward expansion.
The Whittier’s used to bottle and sell their milk direct to consumers, however, since joining Agrimark, a Cabot cooperative in 2008, Sam recounts that they have “gained from the relationship and are really very happy with where (they) are with the cooperative and the resources that are available”. Currently, they milk 110 Holstein cows and ship roughly 8,000 pounds of milk each morning. Their milk is then processed into cheeses, butter, and other Cabot products and sold on grocery shelves across New England. Including on the shelves of Whittier Farm’s own store.
Spanning 500 acres, the Whittier’s cultivate approximately 400 of those for hay, corn, and mixed vegetables. The hay and corn are used for feed for the cows and the vegetables are sold in their farm store. Not only can you find Whittier vegetables fresh in season, upon entering their store you have faced with many choices of value-added and prepared foods with ingredients grown by the Whittier family themselves.
“We’re trying to find that definition as we are a specialty crop grower, we are a dairy farm, but we are also doing a huge amount of value added”, Sam says. In their farm kitchen, they process their own fruits, vegetables and beef cuts into jams, baked goods, even prepared meals such as shepherd’s pie and meat lasagna. When preparing mac and cheese dishes they use Cabot cheese, knowing there is a good chance some of that cheese was processed from their own milk. They sell these value-added items alongside their many produce offerings in their farm store and have even expanded to catering local events. Sam believes all productions are best when the Whittier’s can “bring it full circle”.
As members of the Cabot co-operative, the Whittier’s have witnessed great successes yet they also struggle, as they are beholden to the milk prices as set by the market. The excellent care they take of their animals, the transparency of their operation, the education they provide to the community do not translate to increased revenue from milking. Currently, at 110 head their barn hold room for more cows but according to Sam, “with the price of milk, it doesn’t make any sense right now” to expand. Stating that instead they “chose to diversify elsewhere knowing that while everybody was adding cows (which) would not help the price of milk”.
While they are passionate about dairy farming Sam tells of the struggles faced when talking to consumers, “People do not understand that paying $4 for a gallon (of milk) in the store, the farmer is not seeing $4, and having them understand that process, because when you try to explain to somebody how the milk gets to that bottle, is really hard”. This is why participating in community events, being open to the public and very accessible to the community is so important to the Whittier’s. They believe that the best way to help consumers understand the dairy industry is through communication and engagement. The Whittier’s employ only local citizens, many of whom have worked for the family for years and Sam sees incredible value in the dollar that pays their employee is spent within their community.
As Sam reflects on their farming operation she sums it up by succinctly saying they work toward success by “trying to be smart about every move that we make. We want to milk cows, we want to be in dairy, and just trying to make that work the best that we can. (While) at the same time keeping that balanced with vegetables and homemade meals and tying the two together. The compost from the barns being used for the vegetables which are used for a garden chowder with cream and cheese from the farm all sold in the farm store”.
You can visit Whittier Farms at 90 Douglas Rd in Sutton seven days a week from 9 am through 7 pm year round. Their store and catering offerings vary with the season, and there is always something new to discover. Be sure to bring the kids to see the hoses and cows they have housed right by the farm store! Education begins with interaction.