HADLEY - Cook Farm is a rambling farmstead on 50 lush acres at the base of the steep and lumpy Holyoke Range. There you'll find Flayvors of Cook Farm, an ice cream stand that offers some zany flavors: Ginger, named for the Jersey cow on the sign; Inez, coconut with chocolate and almonds, named for the Holstein on the sign; apple-blueberry crisp ice cream named for Fayvor, the foundation cow of the herd; and the spring specialty, Hadley grass asparagus ice cream.
These third-generation dairy farmers have figured out how to make a living without reverting to miniature golf or other attractions. Beth Cook, 57, her husband, Gordon, 62, and their oldest son, Hank, 38, established a down-home ice cream stand so they could continue to milk cows and make something with their own milk.
It all started 11 years ago when Beth applied for a Farm Viability grant from the state so they could expand. Hank wanted to move back to the farm and start a family. "Hank got married and he wanted to farm with us, but adding more cows didn't make sense," Beth says. "We don't have enough land or infrastructure." Beth had always wanted to open an ice cream parlor. "Gordon thought I was nuts but I wrote an essay and applied and they said yes and gave us $40,000."
The Cooks built the grand post-and-beam stand on an old pasture right next to the barn. Local zoning says that at least half of what they sell in the store must come from their own land. Beth specializes in ice cream, but also churns butter, makes cream soups, tapioca pudding, ice-cream sandwiches called Snackers, and macaroni and cheese. The Cooks sell their own raw milk and pumpkins, and stock asparagus, berries, and sweet corn from other growers. Gordon says, "At first I imagined a double-wide trailer with three windows but Beth wanted something more like this. I can't eat ice cream four times a day but I do have my share."
The stand, with flower gardens around it, feels like an extension of the farm. It is tidy and comfortable, decorated with hand-drawn signs. Year-round, Beth makes all the ice cream, and also decides what the flavors will be. She offers pints and quarts, turns the ice cream into floats and sodas, and makes ice cream cakes. The novelty flavor, Hadley grass asparagus ice cream, is actually made with local asparagus (it's called Hadley grass where it's grown). The color is bright green and the taste is sweet-salty-buttery asparagus. The stand is dotted with tables for customers to sit down; more are outdoors.
The farmland has been in Gordon's family since the early 20th century, when his grandparents, Joseph and Ethel Cook, moved there. In 1911, Gordon's father, also named Gordon, was born in the front room of the farmhouse. In 1942 he married Marjorie Eberhardt, a city girl and school teacher from New Jersey, whom he met at a square dance in South Amherst. "She was a prize," says Beth. "She was an inspiration to all of us women. Mimi and Pop is what we called them. Pop lived to 91. He passed in 2003 right there in the front room of the house, right where he was born. Mimi was 93 when she died last year." Beth and Gordon moved to the farm full time in the mid 1980s. Hank, Nathan, 29, Kara, 40, and Kimberlee, 31, grew up in a new house just on the other side of the barn from the old farmhouse.
The Cooks raise calves year-round and milk 45 to 55 cows twice a day, every day of the year. "We aren't organic but we like to think that we're sustainable," says Gordon. "We don't use any hormones or antibiotics." The barn is low and old with ancient chestnut beams and a flat stone floor. Outside there is plenty of room for the cows to graze and sleep on the grass. On nice nights the picnic tables around the barn are filled with ice cream eaters. Dogs soak up the shade, children wander the farmyard chasing chickens and petting calves. Gordon and his boys bring in hay. Beth scoops ice cream and thinks about what to make for supper. A real New England family farm - and it's thriving.
Flayvors of Cook Farm, 1 East Hadley Road, Hadley, 413-584-2244, cookfarm.com.