According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, of the 689 farmers in Fairfield County, only 72 are under the age of 35. This statistic exemplifies an overall trend: farmers are aging in America.
Brittany Conover, Shaggy Coos Farm’s new manager, is bucking the trend as one of those younger farmers. She began managing Shaggy Coos last year as the farm’s founder, Tim Brady, began preparing to move. Her husband, Jake Conover, manages nearby Silverman’s farm and helps around Shaggy Coos.
“Everyone’s been welcoming, and they’re excited to see a young couple in the farming industry,” Brittany said.
Originally from New Tripoli, Penn., Brittany grew up on a horse farm. This instilled in her a love for animals, and she went on to study animal biology at Delaware Valley University. While at school, she met Jake, her future husband, who also grew up on a family farm in New Jersey.
Although Jake’s family’s farm eventually closed, he loved the profession, and at 14, he began working at a pick-your-own fruit and produce farm.
Brittany credits her husband, who considers farming a passion and a hobby, as an inspiration to her own farming. The pair moved to Connecticut so she could complete her master’s degree in environmental science at the University of New Haven.
Shaggy Coos Farm, at 53 Center Road in Easton, Conn., was established in 2007 and is first and foremost a dairy farm. Brady and Brittany both consider the farm-made chocolate milk to be their standout product. The custom recipe relies more on cocoa than sugar, unlike other name-brand chocolate milks. They attribute the flavor to the naturally rich milk from the farm.
There are currently six cows on the property, and each one needs to be milked twice a day. Additionally, the Conovers raise pigs and laying hens, and they hire farmers to raise cattle near a butcher in Plymouth. Horse owners can join in a co-op and board their horses at the farm. In addition to fresh milk, eggs, and meat products made from the animals they raise, Shaggy Coos sells seafood and gelato at the on-site farm stand.
Brittany is eager to continue Shaggy Coos’ tradition as a dairy farm and to build on it. With sustainability in mind, she hopes to begin bottling the farm’s milk in glass instead of plastic. She has also thought about developing educational on-site programming to teach people about the dairy farming industry. Finally, she’d like to expand their range of products to include yogurt.
The Pasteurization Process
Shaggy Coos is considered a micro-dairy. If Brittany were to increase the current number of six to 10 or more dairy cows, she would need to get additional licensing. She does not expect to expand the farm to that size, but will focus instead on doing more with what is already there, she said.
Shaggy Coos pasteurizes its milk on site. The process begins with milking, which happen twice per day. The milk is then transferred to the bulk pasteurization tank, which holds 34 gallons, or about two milkings worth. The milk can only sit in the tank for up to 72 hours, at which point it is bottled onsite and brought over to the farm stand to be sold.
Farming in Easton
Shaggy Coos is part of a patchwork of farms in Easton, where residents can buy locally grown products ranging from Christmas trees to flowers to fresh vegetables. Having a nearby network of farmers helped Brady get started and has continued to help Brittany. She described the many different types of farms in Easton as a positive. Farmers help each other out as they enter their busy seasons at different times of the year.
Small, local farms like Shaggy Coos are also a part of the broader Connecticut local economy. The Easton Village Store was the first to sell Shaggy Coos’ milk. Since then, Shaggy Coos has also sold its products to Stepping Stones in Norwalk, Gruel Britannia in Fairfield, and various specialty stores in the area.
Although there is no one definition for what makes a product “local,” it can be difficult to find a product from close to home in a supermarket chain. Brady and Brittany both note you can go to the grocery store and pick up a bottle of local milk, only to find it is from a farm in Pennsylvania or upstate New York. While that bottle comes from this region of the country, it’s a different experience to drive a few miles down the road, passing the cows who are providing your milk.
Farming During COVID-19
Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses of all kinds to shut down temporarily and change how they do business, farms are part of the essential food industry. Like many other farms that remained open throughout the pandemic, Shaggy Coos noticed an increased interest in its products.
“We’re getting a lot of people, a lot of new customers from Easton or Fairfield or Monroe, who have maybe heard of us a few times, but finally decided to come out,” said Conover. “They decided they’d rather come here than the grocery store.”
The newfound interest in local products has helped bolster Shaggy Coos and farms around Easton. Conover is eager to continue providing customers with fresh, local options for many years to come.
Editors’ note: This is the first installment in what will be an ongoing series of articles featuring Easton farms.