The way Cynthia LaPrise tells it, her family owns a dairy farm, and a well-stocked farmstand called Emma Acres, because her kids had a 4H project back in the day.
They had the idea to show cows.
“And my husband said, ‘If they want to do it, they are going to do it right.’ That’s just my husband’s personality.”
And so in 2002, they bought their first two Jersey cows from a nice farmer in New Hampshire, said Maggie LaPrise, 21, the youngest in the family. And they multiplied pretty fast after that. They have more than 60 cows now.
“It was totally driven by the kids,” Cynthia said. “Most 4H projects don’t turn into a full-blown dairy farm.”
Maggie said she was just two weeks old when she attended her first 4H meeting with her older siblings. Today she is a full-time farmer while studying for a bachelor’s degree in agricultural management online at Penn State. She’s also busy applying for grants to support the farm.
She was at the University of Rhode Island studying animal science when she realized, “I need to learn how to run a business.”
The business got that much busier last fall when they opened the Emma Acres Farmstand, which is open Wednesday through Sunday.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused many new customers to discover the store.
They not only stock their milk, processed and packaged by Rhody Fresh, but plenty of eggs, meat, and products from local artisans, such as cow milk soap. They also have all Cabot Cheese and yogurts. They have been part of the Cabot Cooperative in New England since 2008.
They also sell on Rhode Island-based WhatsGood app at sourcewhatsgood.com — basically a farmers’ market online for home delivery.
“That really took right off with the start of the pandemic. It clearly served a need at this time,” Cynthia said. They’ve been filling about 40 orders a week, she added.
The name Emma Acres represents the first initial of each of the LaPrise children — Elizabeth, Matt, Maggie and Alexandra, three of whom have their own young families now. Their parents still have full-time jobs. Cynthia is a registered nurse and her husband, Edwin “Scooter” LaPrise, is in the log-trucking business.
Maggie is the one milking 30 cows twice a day, every day.
“I do love my cows,” she said. “You can’t deal with all the struggles a farmer has and not love the animals.”
They chose Jersey cows because they are the smallest, require less feed, but are most efficient at producing milk — and a quality milk at that, Maggie said.
They also have a sassy personality that she likes. She still is showing them, most recently, pre-pandemic, in Louisville, Kentucky and Madison, Wisconsin.
For her mother, this is deju vu. She grew up the daughter and sister of dairy farmers. Bailey Farm in East Greenwich, which closed down just two years ago after starting in the 19th century, was run by her father and brother.
On their 12-acre Exeter farm, the LaPrises have also started raising veal calves, in a very humane way, said Cynthia. They are awaiting the next group of pigs to come in. Of course there are chickens, too.
When the farmstand opened, they had 500 people the first day. That tells you a lot about the demand for local food.
“If you went up Route 102 on that day, you’d say, ‘What’s going on?’” said Cynthia. “We sold out of everything in the store. It was wiped clean. I had to head up to Vermont to get more cheese and yogurt.”
They had the idea to open an ice cream shop, but that would require much more than the farmstead did to get started, said Cynthia. Instead, they happily sell Warwick Ice Cream.
In February, they made the decision to close on Monday and Tuesday.
“It gives us a chance to breathe,” said Cynthia. “But of course, the cows still need to be milked twice a day.”
Good thing they started Maggie with her farm lessons when she was young, so she has that passion for her cows today.
Details: Emma Acres, 143 Ten Rod Rd., Exeter, (401) 294-7555, on Facebook as EmmaAcres. Hours are Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.