John Hornstra remembers the support he received from Griffin’s Dairy when he was a young dairy farmer.
If one of his trucks broke down, the Griffins would loan him one of theirs. They’d pick up products from Boston’s wholesalers and drop some off for him. They even passed along one of their Norwell delivery routes.
“Larry and Vinny and Jimmy they were nice people and really helped a kid out when I was just starting in the business,” Hornstra recalled, sitting atop a milk crate inside a restored outbuilding on his Norwell dairy farm. “They were great.”
William Hogg, the owner of Peaceful Meadows in Whitman, was another mentor. In fact, Hornstra asked about buying Peaceful Meadows back in 2009, when he was looking to expand his growing milk delivery business.
“I always felt that was the business I wanted to be in,” he said.
Now Hornstra has made a big investment to keep the region’s dairy industry alive and thriving.
Hornstra purchased the Peaceful Meadows ice cream stand, retail store, barns, and pasture land for $1.75 million Tuesday at a well-attended and closely watched auction held at the landmark Route 18 dairy. He outbid at least two other parties, and in the process thrilled a region saddened by the prospect of losing another longtime farm and community staple.
“This is just about the best case scenario,” Whitman Selectman Justin Evans told Abington News. “It will be great to see Hornstra come in and bring back at least an ice cream stand and dairy store, and hopefully have cows back and a working farm at some point in the future.”
“I’m just really, really glad,” said Nancy Reid, whose husband worked for Griffin’s Dairy and has known Hornstra for years. “It’s wonderful for the area.”
The significance of the purchase was not lost on Hornstra, a fourth generation dairy farmer.
“That auction, I got to be honest with ya, I bid for everybody on the South Shore,” he said. “It’s going to be a [lot] of work….There is an opportunity, but there’s only an opportunity if we have the support of our customers.”
The full price was $1.925 million, when the premium for the auctioneer was added in. J. J. Manning Auctioneers said the Hogg Family sold four parcels yesterday, including two residences, for a total of $2.7 million.
Hornstra acknowledged spending more than he wanted, but said, standing there with his 23-year-old son, he felt the need to push on.
“I want to expand the business enough so he can make a living out of it and I can make a living out of it,” Hornstra said. “We’re going to employ some people. It’s going to take some people to do this. But we’re pretty excited about it…I’m that guy that’s crazy enough that tries to do what’s right regardless of whether its financially feasible or not.”
He hopes to have the retail store back open before Thanksgiving — so people can get their eggnog — but says the ice cream stand may remain closed until spring to allow for upgrades.
Although the lines outside the Whitman ice cream stand this summer were long, Hornstra said the facility “is in tough shape,” and that a full revitalization of the dairy property will be a multi-year process. It’s been decades since the cows were milked on site — Peaceful Meadows got their milk from a herd in Western Massachusetts — and several years since cows even lived on the land. The barns are old and outdated and may have to come down, Hornstra said. The sprawling pastures have gone fallow and need to be refenced, drained, and cleared of invasive weeds.
But this is all work Hornstra has done before. The original Hornstra dairy farm was located in Hingham near Wampatuck State Park. But in 1969, the cow herd was sold off and the business started buying milk from a dairy in Shrewsbury. In the early 1990s, after he took over the business, Hornstra started buying milk from a cousin’s farm in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, and for 20 years a daily truck filled with milk drove 175 miles down to Hingham, so it could be delivered to customer doorsteps.
“It was frustrating being a milkman out on the road and having people say, ‘When can we come visit the farm?”,” Hornstra said. “Well the farm was 175 miles away!”
Hornstra bought the former Loring Farm in Norwell in 2009 and spent years rehabilitating the buildings and fields before moving operations to the 80-acre Prospect Street property. Today, the dairy features a retail store and ice cream stand, and also hosts regular school field trips, in addition to processing milk for the growing home delivery business.
“I always wanted a farm of my own where people could come and learn about cows,” he said. “It’s nice to have a working farm in suburbia.”
Hornstra sees a similar future for Peaceful Meadows, which sits on one of the area’s busiest thoroughfares, next to the region’s largest city, and enjoys widespread name recognition. There will be some changes. He hopes to find some federal and state grants to finance a new robotic milking operation in Whitman, with bottling taking place in Norwell. Some of Peaceful Meadows more … venerable … ice cream flavors may become monthly specials rather than regular options. The stand may start closing during the winter months to allow for maintenance and upkeep. And, yes, customers can soon get sprinkles on their ice cream.
Hornstra’s is also big into environmental sustainability — it’s one reason why they prefer to still deliver milk in glass bottles rather than plastic jugs.
The company’s retail shop also features treats from other local businesses, including Guilty Bakery, which is co-owned by Abington resident Amy Cotter, Fratelli’s Bakery, and Cape Cod Pizza.
Milk prices will likely also go up. Peaceful Meadows has regularly featured some of the lowest milk prices in the area, with the retail price sticking close to the wholesale cost of buying raw milk.
“I hope people don’t buck too much at the price,” Hornstra said, adding that his company’s milk comes in glass bottles, and is pasturized differently.
Ultimately, Hornstra said the longterm success of his new gambit wil depend on continuing to provide products consumers want and being a destination people enjoy visiting.
“The only way we can pull off projects like this is because we have a loyal following,” he said. “People feel strongly about local quality products.”
Reid, for one, has faith in Hornstra.
“John is just amazing. I have so much respect for him,” she said. “By him buying [Peaceful Meadows], it’s going to stay the way it is. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for everybody.”