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Kennedy: Cheesemaker wrestles with time, space limitations

Kennedy: Cheesemaker wrestles with time, space limitations

Marge Randles is in a bit of a pickle.

“I thought I was maxed out a year ago; now I’m maxed out even more,” she says of the tight quarters her business, Argyle Cheese Farmer, occupies at Randles Fairview Farm, a 225-acre dairy farmstead in rural Washington County.

Husband Dave Randles was a partner in the farm with his brother, Will, for close to 40 years before joining Marge in her then-nascent yogurt- and cheese-making enterprise, which used milk from Fairview’s 50-cow herd. She left a 30-year practice in tax and financial planning to start the business in 2007.

The herd just recently was sold to a neighbor when Will decided to retire. But Marge, who waved off questions about the sale as outside her business, says she now gets 100 percent of her milk from a farmer who formerly provided a 50 percent match to the 50 percent provided by Fairview’s herd.

What’s more, the farmer uses the same crop-feed diet as Fairview did, ensuring continued quality and consistency in the raw milk, which “is critical for us,” Marge says.

Argyle Cheese Farmer offers award-winning whole-milk and Greek yogurts, buttermilk, cheeses and cheese spreads. It sells through retailers like Price Chopper, Stewart’s Shops and local co-ops, although farmers’ markets in Troy, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs are prime weekly sales outlets. It’s also a stop on the annual Washington County September cheese tour.

The business has a website, and some sales occur there, but Marge says she doesn’t “push it” because consumers’ shipping costs will be high.

She likes to keep sales local, because that ensures freshness. But Argyle Cheese Farmer has two distributors that channel yogurt and buttermilk to New York City, primarily supplying restaurants.

While product demand is strong, production space is limited – hence Marge’s pickle. The business averages a dozen workers weekly, just four of them full-time. It recently resurrected a 4-to-8 p.m. evening shift because there wasn’t enough room for the workers earlier in the day.

Argyle Cheese Farmer has been close to securing larger quarters before: In 2014, it looked to move nearby to a former catheter plant that was to be redeveloped for multiple small businesses; last year, relocation to Warren County and the commercial/light industrial area known as Pruyns Island in Glens Falls appeared imminent.

Marge declined to discuss either effort, saying simply, “Neither worked out.”

She also won’t talk about future plans except to say that she is “looking for ways to expand and move the business forward.”

That could include selling out. “We’re open to options.” 

“We can’t do this for another 20 years,” Marge says of herself and Dave. They have four grown children, but there is no heir apparent.

“We have to be willing to let go of it,” she says, underscoring that Argyle Cheese Farmer “has huge potential.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]
 

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