NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- "We come for the pastries," said David Brindamour of Bellingham, "but the boys like to see the cows."
The boys, 6-year-old twins Connor and Tyler, were craning their necks to see into the old wooden shed at Wright's Dairy Farm & Bakery, where a dozen or so cows were lined up for the second of their twice-daily milkings. Looking vaguely disappointed, Connor finally asked, "Where's the chocolate milk?"
His father's comment sums up the appeal of this working dairy farm and bakery on 90 acres in northeastern Rhode Island. Begun around 1900 by George Wright, the farm is still a family operation. In 1972 Claire Wright started making pies in her home to be sold in the small retail store, and the bakery officially opened in 1976.
Today Edward Wright, George's grandson, is president. Elizabeth Dulude, George's great-granddaughter, runs the office, and her brother-in-law Steven Puccetti is the chief herdsman. Several other family members are involved in the operation, which employs some 45 people, Dulude said.
The farm is home to 130 cows. All the milk is processed and sold on site, some 5,000 gallons a week of whole, 2 percent, skim, coffee, and chocolate. Milk costs $3 a gallon, and light and heavy cream are also available.
Bakery sales have finally outpaced the dairy operation, said Dulude. Wright's is known for its cream pies: One wall of the retail store is a refrigerated case of luscious-looking banana, chocolate, coconut, and key lime pies topped with dramatic domes of whipped cream, which comes directly from the dairy's cows, with just a touch of vanilla and powdered sugar and no preservatives. The same rich cream goes into cream puffs and extravagantly decorated cakes. The shop also sells cupcakes, biscotti, scones, cookies, spinach and broccoli pies, bakery pizza, hermits, cornbread, candy, and fudge.
As a working dairy farm, however, Wright's also offers an educational experience. Visitors are welcome to wander among the barns and watch milking every day between 3 and 6 p.m.
Some visitors have been lucky enough to see a calf being born in the maternity barn, Dulude said. "But we're not trying to entertain," she added, "just doing our job. We have customers who came when they were children and are now bringing their own children -- that's terrific."
Visitors can also see the "babies." Calves stay in individual hutches that resemble rooftop car carriers for three months, to protect them from disease and allow the staff to monitor how much they eat and drink. After three months, they move into groups of three or four for another couple of months.
At 6 months, Dulude said, they are sent to a farm in Vermont, where they are raised until they are ready to bear young. They get inseminated and are sent back to Rhode Island when they're ready to deliver. Wright's does not do artificial insemination, so the farm keeps four bulls on site. "They're busy," Dulude said. Male offspring are sold to a cattle dealer.
In addition to watching the mechanical milking process, visitors can learn about dairy farming and cows' habits by reading the "cow facts" signs posted along the gateway where cows wait to enter the milking shed: A cow gives approximately eight gallons of milk per day. A cow eats some 118 pounds of hay, grain, and corn per day and drinks about a bathtub full of water. A Holstein's spots are like fingerprints or snowflakes; no two patterns are alike.
A children's T-shirt in the bakery reads: "I know where milk comes from." As simple as this message seems, a visit to Wright's Dairy Farm puts it into perspective. And don't forget the cream pie on your way out.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at ealbanese@ globe.com.