The Nicest Place in Wisconsin: Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Free Milk for Those Who Need"
At this dairy farm, if you need fresh milk and can’t afford it, it’s yours. Don’t need? Adopt a cow to help those who do.
If children learn by example, then the Baerwolf sisters are model students. For years, their father, James, and their uncle, Robert, co-owners of Sassy Cow Creamery, a dairy farm and store in Columbus, have donated milk to a food bank in nearby Madison. When the pandemic hit, the three teenagers—Taylor,18, Faith,16, and Anika,14—were home from school and couldn’t help but think about their neighbors who didn’t have enough to eat and drink.
News reports showed farmers dumping milk into the fields because their usual orders from schools and businesses had dried up, while the cows kept producing milk as usual. As wasteful as it seemed, that milk was raw, not pasteurized, and couldn’t just be donated to people who needed it. But Sassy Cow, located on 1,700 acres in the middle of farm country between Madison and Milwaukee, pasteurizes and bottles its own milk.
The teenagers had an idea: set up a refrigerator outside the Sassy Cow Creamery store and keep it stocked with milk (even chocolate milk!) that people could come and take, no questions asked, no charge. At the peak of the pandemic, milk was flying out of the cooler at a rate of about 400 gallons a day. When people in town learned about the Kindness Cooler, as it was dubbed, they donated money to help keep the operation going. By the end of May, the creamery had given away about 10,000 gallons of milk.
Taylor, Faith, and Anika are part of the fourth generation here, making a life on the land their great-grandfather bought in 1946. Their dad and uncle are the third generation to work the farm, raising about 850 head of traditional and organic cows and running the creamery. They work seven days a week, not just farming but running the store, which stocks farm-fresh milk, cheese, eggs, ice cream, and more. And they offer daily tours so people can see, and show their children, where their milk comes from. Kids can even watch ice cream being made and when school groups come here for field trips, everybody gets free ice cream.
The Kindness Cooler fit right into the family’s notion that you do what you can to help your neighbors. For years Sassy Cow has donated milk to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Madison. About seven years ago, the nonprofit approached Sassy Cow Creamery about a program they created called “Adopt a Dairy Cow.” Donors can “adopt” a cow and the money they pledge helps the food bank buy milk for families who need it. The descriptions, from “Cupid: She’s a lover, not a fighter,” to “Penny: She’s grouchy if she doesn’t get enough sun,” resemble the bovine version of Match.com.
“We never would have started the program without the help of Sassy Cow Creamery,” Kris Tazelaar, director of marketing and communications for the food bank, told Reader’s Digest. So far this year, the Adopt a Dairy Cow campaign has raised over $211,000.
“We know when things are tough or tight or a little uncertain or if someone is struggling, there’s nothing better than having milk in the fridge,” says James.28