Dakin Farm’s Holiday Gift: A Taste of Vermont

12/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Leon Thompson Vermont Correspondent

FERRISBURGH, Vt. — Consider the comparisons between Sam Cutting IV and Santa Claus, besides their uncanny sharing of initials, and you might wonder if they’re ever in the same room.

They both spend the year prepping for a holiday rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

They oversee dozens of committed workers in a busy, well-oiled shop, with the intention of making everyone on their list happy.

And they thrive on tradition — with some magic.

Hmmm

“During the holidays, my attention turns to fulfillment,” said Sam Cutting IV, president of Dakin Farm, in Ferrisburgh, Vt. “I want to meet the peak season demand as efficiently as possible while maintaining quality in all aspects of the operation.”

That sounds very Santa, but Sam IV probably inherited that philosophy from his father, Sam Cutting III, who bought Dakin Farm in 1960 and quickly turned it into a holiday tradition with its specialty meats, cheeses and Vermont maple syrup.

That was probably not in Timothy Dakin’s business plan when he started slow-smoking meats over corncob embers on his Ferrisburgh farm in the late 1700s, but the Cuttings have worked hard for decades to uphold those methods; and it’s worked.

“The traditions should be maintained,” said Sam IV. “That’s what Dakin Farm is all about.”

As you read this, it is crunch time in Ferrisburgh (pop. 2,700). Sam IV’s staff, which swells from 21 to 160 people for just four weeks a year, sweats and toils to pick, pack and ship 50,000 holiday gift boxes and baskets from Dakin Farm’s red-barn distribution center — all in time for Christmas.

Sam IV is working 100 hours a week, which cuts into time with his wife, Nancy, and their daughters: Katie, 21; Emily, 18; and Carolyn, 13.

Every full-time employee becomes a manager of a few to 50 temporary workers that must quickly learn the ways of Dakin Farm.

“We have a great deal of experience handling the holiday rush,” said Sam IV. “We are like one big family. Everyone looks forward to the busy holiday season to earn extra money, and the employees enjoy the momentum of being busy.”

Meanwhile, at Dakin Farm’s South Burlington, Vt., retail store, manager Susan Swatson, 50, Sam IV’s only sibling, ensures her shelves and bins are filled with the products that keep customers in line.

The most popular is the Lumberjack breakfast (bacon, ham, syrup, pancake mix, maple butter, jam and blueberries). The Dakin Farm sampler is also a favorite (bacon, sausage, pancake mix, cheese, mustard, honey and jam). Other big sellers include maple-glazed spiral-sliced hams, syrup and cheese.

“We ship maple syrup and other non-perishable items all over the world,” Sam IV said. “You name a country and we have most likely shipped it there.”

In Ferrisburgh, where Dakin Farm also has a USDA-inspected meat plant on its 100-acre site, staff finishes specialty foods according to recipes from the 1800s. The syrup comes from five family farms in northern Vermont and is packed at Dakin Farms.

Dakin Farm selects its cheese from Cabot Creamery before it is cut, waxed and labeled in Ferrisburgh. Dakin Farm also selects Vermont artisan cheeses that are cut into 8-ounce wedges — by hand — and wrapped in parchment paper.

Dakin Farm’s poultry and beef are processed at All Holding Company Inc., in Harleysville, Pa., but employees slice and glaze hams in Ferrisburgh, where they also make Dakin Farm sausage.

“We do a fair amount of manufacturing,” Sam IV said. “We just don’t get the raw product here.”

Timothy Dakin, a Quaker, established one of Ferrisburgh’s first farms when he went to Vermont from Rhode Island and settled there in 1792. Dakin had a 200-acre dairy farm, according to Sam IV, who grew up in the original farmhouse.

Sam III and his father, Sam II, discovered Dakin Farm for sale in 1960 and saw it as an investment — a hobby farm — for Sam III, while he flew for the Vermont Air National Guard.

Sam IV always worked at Dakin Farm, from maple sugaring and selling apples in childhood to keeping the grounds while studying marketing at the University of Vermont, where he graduated in 1980.

“When I got done, I was ready to start at Dakin Farm,” Sam IV said, “provided I got some time off each winter to ski.”

For years, the Cuttings spent their days and nights packing and filling orders at home. They relied on direct marketing and mail order business and placed ads in the Wall Street Journal. They followed their customers’ buying trends on paper-clipped index cards, filed in a Rolodex. Dakin Farm had its first computer in the 1980s; then came the Internet.

Web sales sparked the need for Dakin Farm’s new $2 million distribution center in 2003, “but, if not for the Net, we would need more stores in metropolitan areas, and it’s alleviated our need for more catalogs,” Sam IV said. “With the Web, we can have two stores and sell all over the world. Without the Web, we’d be a totally different business.”

Sam IV has no succession plan for Dakin Farm. He is 54. His two oldest daughters do not want to own the business, and his youngest is too young to know. If his family grows out of Dakin Farm, he will sell it — but not to just anyone.

“It’s positioned to sell or pass on,” Sam IV said. “I’m not going to work this hard forever, but we want to ensure that someone carries on the Dakin Farm traditions, and brings new ones.”


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