Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn. - It's the Fifth Avenue of farms, the Barney's of barns, the Saks of cow stalls. Welcome to Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, Conn., a flourishing dairy dynasty with designer pedigree and stiletto style.
Tony Yurgaitis, left, and George Malkemus, top executives for the high-end shoe brand Manolo Blahnik of “Sex and the City” fame, say the production methods used at their dairy farm make “milk like it used to taste.”
Photos by Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/MCT
Yurgaitis stands with a one of the cows on his dairy farm. "This is not a hobby, it is a work of love," he said. "We wanted to save this farm."
The pristine dairy farm may seem an unlikely business initiative for fashion gurus George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis. The Manhattanites are best known as the top executives of the high-end shoe brand Manolo Blahnik, the finely crafted Italian women's stilettos and such made famous by Carrie Bradshaw in the HBO series "Sex and the City."
But don't let these city guys fool you. With the same commitment and attention to quality they put into their pricey shoes-of-desire, the longtime partners have crafted the creme de la creme of dairy products while gaining international attention for their cattle.
"This is not a hobby, it is a work of love," said Yurgaitis. "We wanted to save this farm."
The story did not start so altruistically in 1999 when the couple bought the place. It was more about being a little selfish when it came to the view from their house, which is across from the farm.
"We had this beautiful vista that we woke up to every day, and we didn't want it spoiled," explained Malkemus. "So we bought the farm."
The former horse farm could have become a golf course or tract housing -- two earlier plans for the property -- but Yurgaitis and Malkemus wanted to preserve the gently rolling pastures. When they started planning, the 300-plus-acre farm became home to 300 head of Holsteins, Brown Swiss and Jersey cows, heifers and calves, a chicken coop, nine barns, five farmhouses, and a nearby retail store, creamery and bottling plant.
The two were consumed with learning all they could about farming, and it was clear there was not going to be a lot of profit, if any, in dairy farming. But the business was about more than just money. It was about the land.
"We were both concerned about farmland preservation as well as making this a working farm," said Malkemus, as he recited Connecticut statistics reflecting the dramatic drop in the number of dairy farms over the decades.
The cows have won a wall full of trophies and ribbons that are proudly displayed in the sumptuous conference room inside the spacious state-of-the-art milk barn. Arethusa made history in 2004 when two of its cows, Victoria and Melanie, were named Grand Champion Jersey and Grand Champion Holstein at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin. The efforts to develop the best herd of home-bred cattle in North America has established Arethusa as a premier dairy breeding farm, both nationally and internationally.
All the milk comes from about 80 cows from the Arethusa herd, a group of "ladies" that Yurgaitis, Malkemus and their expert staff hold in high esteem.
The herd enjoys spotless stalls, top-quality Canadian hay and personalized protein-rich grain mixtures from a computerized feeding system. They are treated to daily vacuuming and weekly baths in a spa-like shower room, including a conditioning treatment to keep their tails white.
Malkemus is philosophical about the business many thought he and Yurgaitis were crazy to get into and even crazier to grow. Admitting that the mainstream is still more interested in hearing about their shoes than their cows, the two are dedicated to both businesses. They agree it all boils down to what makes them tick: a commitment to a quality product and a stellar reputation.
"We are passionate about Manolo and Arethusa," said Malkemus. "We have had the Manolo business for 30 years, and we stuck with classic timeless shoes women could wear forever. This is what we want for Arethusa, as pristine a reputation as Manolo. If we achieve that, we would be thrilled."