Here at ChopChop Family, we're big believers in knowing all we can about our food and where it comes from. So we were excited to get to talk to Allison Akins, a seventh-generation Cabot dairy farmer, about life on the farm and what her job is like. Here's what Allison told us.
Can you tell us a little bit about a day in the life of a dairy farmer?
Every day is different from the previous day. Each one of us, owners and employees, have very different responsibilities but we all work together for our farm to run efficiently and sustainably. Our farm has been in the Akins family for almost 200 years, so it is important to us to carry this on for many more generations. My brother Ryan is the first one to the farm in the mornings at 4 a.m. He and his team prepare the feed for all the animals on the farm. Each age group of cows—from newly born calves to heifers (cows that haven’t had a calf yet) to milking cows (cows that have had at least one calf)—has different nutritional needs. Therefore, each group has a different recipe of feed that needs to be made fresh every day.
The feeding process takes about 4 to 5 hours every morning. My father Mark oversees the herdsman crew. When he gets to the barn at 5:30 a.m., he checks the maternity pen to see if any babies were born overnight. Then, he and four employees start to bring the first group of cows down to the milking parlor. We milk about 700 cows three times a day: 6 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m. Once milking starts, the farm gets extremely busy and everyone is going in all different directions. Even though I have a full-time job off the farm for our farm’s cooperative, Cabot Creamery, I still help with office work and veterinary duties. I get to the farm around 7 a.m. I check the calf barns for signs of anyone not feeling well, and, of course, give some of my favorite calves a few extra scratches. Depending on the season, the middle of the day can consist of meeting with salesmen or vendors, fixing equipment, building a new barn, doing crop work, or even just sitting down and paying bills. Generally, we are always doing a combination of everything throughout the day.
Around lunchtime, my father, brother, and I always try to touch base to make sure we are checking things off our to-do list and delegating any tasks that need to be a priority. By noon, usually we’ve well surpassed our 10,000 steps for the day, but we don’t stop until the work is done. We are very fortunate to have wonderful employees, many of whom have worked on our farm for over a decade. My brother and I are the seventh generation of our family farm—a farm that currently has three generations of the family in ownership. My father’s parents are still active in everyday life on the farm. My grandmother can be found mowing the farm lawns, and my gramps is always in a manure truck headed to fertilize a hayfield. Together, we all make it work and we all have pieces that we enjoy working on. But, the most important piece is that we are working side by side as a family.
What do you love about ChopChop Family?
I love that ChopChop Family values families spending time together in the kitchen. Kids learn so much more about food and nutrition when they have hands-on learning. And what better way to learn than together as a family? It may be messy and take longer, but the laughter and memories that come with cooking together are well worth it. Participating in cooking with my family members from such a young age has allowed me to branch out and love all types of food and not fear trying something new. I truly appreciate the values that ChopChop Family stands for, as a farmer and as a foodie, because nothing is more important than future generations understanding where their food comes from and how to be creatively healthy.
What is your favorite recipe (with or without cheese in it)?
I jumped on the Instapot trend about six months ago and I haven’t looked back. I am a huge proponent of one-pan meals. And my family is, of course, mac and cheese fanatics. Cabot has a wonderful and easy mac and cheese recipe for the Instapot. I’ll always have a soft spot for my crockpot too simply because it allows me to multitask. I always claim the appetizers for a potluck dinner and my family’s Spinach Artichoke Dip has been a widely requested recipe.
Who taught you how to cook?
My family always made sure to sit down together for dinner as often as possible, even if it meant eating together on a truck tailgate in a field. I have fond memories of helping my mom cook every chance I could get—from meals as simple as grilled cheese and soup all the way to Thanksgiving dinner for our extended family. But my dad has the sweet tooth of the family, and no one makes cookies quite like he does. Even to this day, my parents, my brother, his wife, and I still have dinner together at least once a week. The kitchen is truly the heart of my parents’ home.
What is a new cooking skill you’ve learned in the last year?
My parents gifted me a pasta press for Christmas this past year. Although I haven’t perfected the skill yet, I love making as many dinners from scratch as I possibly can. Practice makes perfect!
What is a food you wish you liked but don’t?
I am not a huge fan of seafood, specifically clams. But they’re my brother’s favorite and still are his birthday dinner request every year! He probably gained a liking for them because, whenever Mom made them growing up, I’d eat half of mine and Ryan would always get to eat the rest.
What is always in your fridge or pantry?
Cabot Cheese, of all kinds. Growing up as a Cabot dairy farmer, cheese pretty much runs through my blood at this point. My college friends still like to tease me about always having cheese to make grilled cheeses for anyone who asked. But now, I’m always on the ready for a cheese and cracker platter for any party or event that I go to!
What is something a family member cooked when you were growing up that you can still smell or taste?
Nothing beats the smell of walking into my parents’ house and smelling my dad’s chocolate chip cookies. Hot out of the oven, they just melt in your mouth.
What are some of your most memorable cooking moments?
There are moments when I’m eating my dinner and I realize every part of dinner was grown or raised on my farm. I love having a large garden big enough to gift fruits and veggies to my extended family. Plus, I am lucky enough to have a brother who enjoys raising all kinds of animals so we can have fresh beef, pork, or fowl all year long. Those truly are my favorite dinners where I know how much time and care went into the entire meal from farm to table.
Is there any food you grew up eating that you now realize was specific to your culture or geographic location?
When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I realized that not everyone could go into their backyard and pick raspberries off the bushes or dig up some carrots for dinner. I’ve been so fortunate to understand the seed-to-table aspect of where my food comes from. This has turned into my passion of teaching people that it is so easy to have a small garden no matter where you live. You can grow lettuce in a 4-inch by 4-inch planter in your living room, carrots in a mason jar, or herbs in your windowsill. Plus, farmers markets allow for you to meet the farmer who is growing the produce their selling, allowing you to ask any questions you may have. Farmers are passionate about what they do and love to teach anyone who is willing to learn—especially kids who have a passion for food.
Allison Akins is a seventh-generation dairy farmer from Lisbon, NY. Her family is one of the 800 farm families who own Cabot Creamery Cooperative, with the milk from Allison’s family farm being made into “The World’s Best Cheddar." After graduating from SUNY Cortland and working at an agricultural finance company, Allison returned to the farm to continue her family's almost-200-year legacy. She enjoys working alongside her family, helping with the veterinary work, and driving her trusty old dump truck for crop work. In addition to the farm, Allison enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, and photography.