Amanda Freund Combines High Tech, High Touch to Engage Consumers
Whenever Amanda Freund boards a plane, she wears a T-shirt with a prominent Cabot Cheese logo, bearing this slogan: I’m a farmer. I’m an owner.
“I want to engage,” she says. “My intention is for people to notice my shirt and ask me about it. It’s like wearing an A-frame sign with our cooperative’s brand, Cabot. I want people to remember the farmer they met.”
The 33-year-old is a third-generation member of an East Canaan, Connecticut, farm. The Freunds – her parents, sister, brother, uncle, and cousins – milk 300 cows. Freund, a Cornell University graduate, worked as a Congressional staffer and was in the Peace Corps.
She returned to the farm in 2015. By that time, the diversified operation included Freund’s Farm Market & Bakery and CowPots, a value-added, biodegradable garden product made from composted manure.
Freund is an ardent agvocate who works to connect her family’s farm with consumers face to face and via social media.
The family crafted a farm mission statement 30 years ago. “When the third generation joined the operation, we looked at it again to make sure it was still relevant,” she says.
Their five goals are posted on the barn wall:
- Community engagement
- Animal care
- Environmental stewardship
It’s no coincidence that community engagement tops the list. “The average person is three generations removed from food production, so providing a point of access to an operating farm is critical,” she says.
Freund, a member of the American Farm Bureau’s Grassroots Outreach Team, has chaired the Connecticut Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers Committee. Her aim is to decommoditize her product.
“We’re a commercial dairy farm, and milk is a commodity – just like soybeans and corn,” she says. “It’s a faceless product.”
Farm tours play a pivotal role. “People want to be connected with their food,” she says. “There is no substitute for being on the farm.”
Their tour focuses on animal care. The Freunds use five robotic milkers. “Our cows choose when and how often to be milked,” she says. “Rumination collars act like a Fitbit to track activity and chewing habits, so we can be more proactive in caring for them.”
Sustainable energy also is a key part of their environmental stewardship; 1,200 solar panels generate electricity for the barn and CowPots facility. A methane digester produces biogas for their house and hot water.
Freund’s biannual newsletter, sent to 2,000 homes in a defined zip code list (and online), recently led to a request for their first farm tour from a nearby campground.
Reaching Large Audiences
Diversification also opens the door to a nondairy audience at national greenhouse and ag trade shows as well as international views. In 2007, their farm was featured on Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. “The poo-pots show has aired in 120 countries,” she says.
Freund has written June Dairy Month features about local farm women. She also helped launch an Agri-Mark Cooperative #farmlove campaign that received 3.5 million impressions.
Connecting requires time. “It’s a challenge to justify time away from the farm,” she says. “It can pay dividends in connecting people to our product who otherwise wouldn’t be connected.”
After Freund participated in a food hub panel in New York City, Forbes magazine came to their farm to shoot a video that drew 350,000 views.
However, she doesn’t underestimate the value of engaging people in her community. Each fall, the Freunds and a neighboring family make macaroni and cheese for the local fire department. “Having dinner with our volunteer firefighters gives us an opportunity to show our gratitude,” she says.