You might have heard some of Stonyfield's history on NPR's How I Built This - but on this Mother's Day, we wanted to tell the story of the women who helped build Stonyfield, and hold it's two co-founders steady during all it's ups and downs. Without these powerful women, Stonyfield would not be where it is today. For that - we thank you!
Stonyfield got our start 35 years ago in April, 1983 as the brainchild of Samuel and Louisa Kaymen whose family shared the little hilltop Stonyfield Farm with their organic farming school, The Rural Education Center in Wilton, NH. I was a close friend of the family and a Trustee of the school while serving as the Executive Director of another NGO dedicated to organic agriculture on Cape Cod. I joined the Kaymens full time at the farm in September that year as our little business was getting underway.
Samuel was of course the brilliant creator of the original Stonyfield recipe, but he would be the first to say that neither he nor we could have achieved anything without the extraordinary help of a group of Mothers who helped to launch and nurture our little dream for many years until it became a stable company. Here they are...
FROM THE BEGINNING...
In the beginning of course was co-Founder Louisa Kaymen – an absolute saint who somehow retained her poise, extraordinary warmth and loving support while putting up with Samuel’s and my pathologically optimistic ideas. Louisa not only was, with her daughter Darryn and later another amazing mom Doreen Chaput, our most diligent, reliable and utterly competent yogurt maker, but she also kept all of us fed both physically and emotionally. I will never fully understand how she kept her cool and calm while putting in long, hard days in our Yogurt Works, often starting before dawn milking the cows or stoking our wood-fired boiler, while also raising their six kids and feeding us with the most delicious and wonderful organic meals night after night. Louisa was the true mother of this company for she not only kept us all nourished, but she was our beautiful and loving source of continued positive energy, amidst near constant chaos.
Louisa was also the rock and anchor for her own mom Mae and Samuel’s mother Florence, both of whom resettled in our small NH town in the latter years of our lives. Mae and Florence were each so proud and supportive of their amazing children and grandchildren, and together they helped to create a warm, family atmosphere for all of us.
In his “spare time” Samuel had founded what is now known as the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). It was at the 1984 Annual NOFA Conference where I met the beautiful Meg Cadoux who was the founder of the NJ NOFA chapter where she ran her own organic farm. Meg joined us full time at Stonyfield in 1985 and took her loyal turns as a yogurt maker, demo person and sales rep. Because our little apartment shared a bathroom with the Yogurt Works employees, Meg rarely was able to enjoy a warm bath without having employees knock on the door during their breaks. A few years later, Meg gave birth at the farm to our two little yogurt eaters Alex and then Ethan. We were losing incredible amounts of money in those early days and somehow Meg still stuck with me, though to be sure, she and Louisa, as the wiser and more reasonable halves of our marriages, often consulted each other about when it might be time to bring the madness to a halt. Yet, these two courageous and stalwart moms never did abandon ship. Meg later wrote the Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook, preparing and testing many hundreds of recipes in our farm kitchen.
On the first day when I arrived at the farm in 1983, I had learned within a few hours of my arrival that our little enterprise was essentially bankrupt with about $50,000 in bills with no hope of income to pay them. So within hours of my arrival, I did what any self-respecting entrepreneur does in such a crisis – I called my own mom Louise who generously and at the time, foolishly, agreed to loan Stonyfield $30,000. It would be 19 years before she saw her loan repaid (with handsome interest) but once again we could not possibly have survived that first year and many to follow without the support of yet another saintly mother.
DORIS, THE BELIEVER
And speaking of saintly moms, there was finally my mother-in-law Doris Cadoux who, as the former Deputy Ag Commissioner in NY and a successful businesswoman herself, knew something about our challenges in launching and growing our business. Over the years, Doris repeatedly invested in Stonyfield initially in small initial amounts that later grew to sums she could not afford to lose.
Eventually Doris joined our Board of Directors and consequently knew more about our shaky fiscal state than I could even share with Meg. When Meg would beg her mother not to invest any more funds in what she reasonably considered a lost cause, Doris on many occasions would look at her worried daughter and say “Meggie, I know what I am doing. It is going to work out.” She probably believed in Samuel and me more than we did ourselves. And in the end, she of course was right.
So here is to the incredible moms who made Stonyfield possible. Stonyfield could simply never have come to be without the support, love and faith of Louisa Kaymen, Mae Schaefer, Florence Kaymen, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, Louise Hirshberg and Doris Cadoux. We, and the thousands of organic family farmers we support and millions of our loyal yogurt eaters are indebted to you all for making this dream come true.