Argyle Cheese Farmer thriving as a 150-year-old dairy business
By: Alicia Biggs
While farmers are careful not to hurry their crops, they are equally cautious about making business changes.
Those who adapt and change, developing niche markets like Argyle Cheese Farmer, are thriving. Expanding their line of products with cheeses, cheese spreads, cheesecakes, breads, Greek yogurt, gelato and most recently, cultured buttermilk, Argyle Cheese Farmer owners Marge and David Randles have sought greater rates of return for their 150-year-old dairy farm.
“Argyle Cheese Farmer is a prime example of how traditional Capital Region farmers can tap into the stored potential of their agricultural assets, whether they are cows or orchards, to enter value-added niche markets, where greater and more controllable rates of return are achievable,” Center for Economic Growth President Andrew Kennedy says. “Events such as the Washington County Cheese Tour with Wine and Beer illustrate that farmers who make this transition are doing more than just making delicious and more profitable products — they’re becoming destinations and attracting tourists into our rural areas.”
CEG’s Business Growth Solutions program, or BGS, can help Capital Region agricultural food producers smoothly and efficiently make this transition, whether it’s through site selection or lean process optimization services, as CEG did with Argyle Cheese Farmer, Kennedy said.
After Marge Randles took a cheese course in 2004, she spent the next three years making her own yogurt in the comfort of her own kitchen. Argyle Cheese Farmer became an official business in the fall of 2007.
“The dairy economic landscape has changed over the years and small farms like ours could not support two families into the next generation,” Marge Randles says. “We started looking for a way to produce another income stream. The rest is history.”
No synthetic hormones are used in the milk from their 50-cow herd. Argyle Cheese Farmer is the first in the area to offer yogurt in a recyclable, returnable glass container.
The Randles have increased their production, making products up to five days per week. As demand has increased, they have put on a second shift of employees, who work from 4 p.m. until the work is done, usually between 7 and 8 p.m.
The farmers markets in Troy, Saratoga, and Glens Falls offer a loyal customer base to Argyle Cheese Farmer, Marge Randles says. Products are also sold in Whole Foods, Healthy Living, and through New York City distributors.
“There is real interest in learning about how the food is made and where it is made,” Marge Randles says. Growing demand for fresh, natural and locally grown food “has helped our business grow and be more profitable. We are asked on a regular basis if folks can tour our plant. Because we process five days per week and go to markets on the sixth we do not have a lot of down time to have tours.”
The Randles open their processing plant to the public for the cheese tour the weekend after Labor Day. Some 2,000 people tour the farm in two days.
During the past five years, CEG says its Business Growth Services program on an annual average has had a $40 million impact on the region’s economy, spurred more than $16 million in sales increased, and helped companies reduce costs by $3 million. During that time, BGS has worked with 177 local manufacturers to retain 1,268 jobs and create 236 new jobs.