Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Westfield, VT: Jack Lazor, Butterworks Farm

"Well, he has a radio voice" was what Trav told me when I asked about Jack Lazor of Butterworks farm. Upon meeting Jack I had to concur, he does have a gentle, smooth voice that would be perfect for the radio and he has a kind and welcoming personality to go right along with his voice. Butterworks is located in northern Vermont but the yogurt produced there can be found all over New England, and Trav and I just bought a quart in Maryland at a Whole Foods Market. It is really creamy and naturally sweet; if you happen to see Butterworks yogurt somewhere you would be wise to give it a taste. It puts other yogurts to shame.

Jack invited us to join him in his kitchen for a cup of tea and he began the story of how Butterworks came to be. He and Anne began with a few cows making yogurt in their home for themselves and some others on a pretty small and informal scale. From the beginning they were organic, believing that if you treat the land with respect and honor you will be working with a much healthier system. As Jack spoke about the land I began to understand that he views it as a partner; not to be abused and stretched to its limits but to be nurtured and replenished so that it can continue to foster life. He graduated from Tufts University, where he studied the history of agriculture and moved to Vermont in 1973. In 1976 they purchased 60 acres for about $20,000 and have been growing crops since 1977.

Jack spoke about his cows and their milk with a similar reverence. They are milking around 45 Jersey cows (Jersey's because they give sweet and creamy milk). Jack gave me a glass of milk to try, and it did have a really pleasant, sweet taste. Employees on the farm are also treated with the utmost kindness and respect; Anne just finished a mediation/nonviolent communication course to facilitate healthy and assertive communication within the farm community. There is a farm meeting once per week where business can be discussed and feedback shared.

Jack was gracious enough to spend a whole afternoon with us, and when he got a call requesting some cheese to be portioned and wrapped for shipping (the cheese is processed off the farm) he asked us to join him in the dairy. We got to try a newer product, maple kefir, that was like a fizzy and tasty drinkable yogurt as well as some cheddar cheese that was delicious.

The cows have a unique and beautiful living situation; in the winter they are kept in a large solar barn (like a giant cow hoop house) that lets in a lot of light and has a back door for ventilation. The granary is right next door and while Jack was slicing cheese Trav and I walked down to the mill area and got 5 pounds of whole wheat flour (which was turned into pancakes and really good bread, if I may say so myself). The granary is a tall wooden building that has stairs to take you higher and higher until you reach the top room, which looks like a square steeple from the outside.

Peering out of the windows we could see into Canada and there were beautiful views in every direction. Jack pointed out the corners of the view that were part of Butterworks farm: the wheat fields, the miscellaneous grain crops, the pasture, the feed fields. They now own about 110 acres in pasture and hay and farm at least 350 more. The dairy, though, is what pays the bills.

Until 1990 almost all sales were within Vermont, but now Butterworks yogurt is available through distributors around the country. He and Anne are in the process of transferring ownership of the farm to their daughter, Christine, and her husband. It comes with plenty of challenges and through Jack's honest, open conduct, we learned about the emotional and practical challenges of a family business. They now have over $1 million in sales, putting them in a bigger-business tax bracket, which seems somewhat in contrast to Jack's friendly, humble and kind personality.

He sent us on our way with a few gifts from the dairy and we headed back Montpelier way. I find myself still thinking about what a grand time we had on that farm and what a huge contribution Butterworks makes to the wider community.


Bethany Dunbar said...

Nice story. I have known the Lazors for a long time. They are the best! Love your pictures and what you are doing here. If you get a chance, check out my blog. I write about a lot of subjects but dairy is a main topic. Will this be a book at some point?

Bethany Dunbar

Clara Jean Howard said...

Heard about the Lazors from Woody Tasch who is coming to Rockland Maine to talk about sustainability economics - inspiring model for us all!

Rayna said...

The only yogurt I will eat. Whole Foods gets a lot of business from me; I buy 3-4 containers of Butterworks Farm yogurt at a time and use it for everything. I would buy a case at a time if I could buy it wholesale. It is the best!

I LOVE Butterworks Farm - no pectin in their nonfat and one of these days, if I can find the whole milk one I will treat myself.

Will said...

Hello -

Would like to use one of your pics at - check out placement & be in touch ... will

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