Monument Farms Dairy began in 1930 as a home delivery route run by Richard and Marjory James in the Weybridge area.
Today, the company is managed by their grandson Jon Rooney and two of his cousins, Bob James and Pete James. And their responsibilities are doled out equally, just as you’d expect in a well-run farm family: Jon runs the processing plant and quality control, Pete runs the farm side of things, and Bob handles marketing and distribution.
Two of Bob’s kids are working in the business, too. And Jon’s mother (Richard and Marjory’s daughter) is still the treasurer—at age 83.
The fact that this 450-herd dairy is still managed by the family that launched it is certainly unique. But what’s particularly unusual is that Monument Farms is one of only five locally-owned “producer-handler” cow dairies—farms that make, process, bottle and distribute their own milk. The others are Thomas Dairy (Rutland), Strafford Organic Creamery (Strafford), Kimball Brook Farm (N. Ferrisburgh), and Sweet Rowen Farmstead (W. Glover).
Rooney says he isn’t sure why there aren’t more locally-owned producer-handlers in Vermont, but he says the multi-pronged aspect of the business may have something to do with it.
“Besides all the headaches for any dairy farmer, we also have all the headaches of being a processor and a distributor,” he says. “I can’t imagine one of us trying to manage this whole business.”
It is also a capital-intensive business that requires 36 employees to procure, process, and distribute the roughly 3,600 gallons of milk produced on the farm each day. Yet the trade-off is that Monument can set its own prices, and engage in unique partnerships like the one it has with three Vermont food co-ops: it sells milk at those co-ops under the label “Vermont Co-op Milk,” in cartons that show the Monument logo and the co-op’s logo. Monument also has a reputation for making the best chocolate milk in Vermont.
Monument’s distribution range is roughly the Champlain Valley between Orwell and Swanton. Does Rooney believe there’s room for more producer-handlers in Vermont?
“The niche here may be well-filled by us, but there’s a lot of the state that isn’t,” he says. “I don’t see why it couldn’t happen.”
Written by Carrie Abels.