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The Country Cupboard: A little farmstand making a big global impression
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Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
John and Joan Maxwell stand inside the Country Cupboard - a farm stand for Cinnamon Ridge farm that sells dairy products and baked goods, meat and other local items. The unstaffed, road-side business works on the honor system - asking patrons to pay for their items before leaving. In the four years that the Maxwells have operated the Country Cupboard they report having a growing, loyal customer base.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
The Country Cupboard, a small self-serve farm stand that sells products grown on Cinnamon Ridge farm outside Donahue, Iowa.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
Premium cuts of beef raised at Cinnamon Ridge are available for purchase through the Country Cupboard.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
Currency from customers who have come from all over the globe to visit Cinnamon Ridge farm is displayed above the slot where customers to the Country Cupboard leave their money in return for the items they have selected at the farm stand.
DONOHUE, Iowa -- If you poked your head into The Country Cupboard, a mom-and-pop-style shop in Donahue, Iowa, you might not guess it's owned and run by a large dairy farmer -- or that the customers who stop in come from all over the globe, as well as right down the road.

With its casual signage, homemade baked goods, free-range eggs and honor-system payment collection, it evokes a cozy, local feel, yet the same farm boasts 4,000 acres of grain, Angus cattle, hundreds of chickens and 10,000 pigs, all in addition to the seventh highest milk-producing herd of Jersey cows in the country. Add it up, and you have one big little family farm, Cinnamon Ridge.

Named for the color of the Jersey cattle and the fact that the barn and homestead sit up high on the ridge, Cinnamon Ridge traditionally has been known as a dairy farm, supplying milk to a Swiss cheese manufacturer. When John Maxwell opened The Country Cupboard four years ago, however, it provided the opportunity to connect directly with consumers and fill a growing need in the marketplace.

"People kept asking for things off the farm," he says. "It's really for the locals."

Originally he intended just to sell beef and pork from his herds of Angus cattle and pigs. Today, he sells those things, plus farm-fresh eggs, multiple flavors of homemade cheese blocks and curds, fresh bread, cinnamon rolls, bars, cookies, jellies, soups, and even wooden cutting boards.

The soups and cheeses are both new to The Country Cupboard's product offerings within the last year. Mr. Maxwell's brother runs the cheese operation. By occupation, he's an anesthesiologist at Genesis East and West, but he took classes at the University of Wisconsin to learn how to become a master cheesemaker.

The Maxwells have experimented with a variety of flavors of cheeses, but have found their southwest chipotle, tomato basil garlic, ranch, horseradish, and plain cheddar to be the most popular. They also recently added gouda to their selection, and Mr. Maxwell has plans to continue experimenting with more flavors and add-ins.

"A lot of the reason why our store is popular is that consumers want to put a name of a farmer with the product they're eating," he says. "It makes them feel better to know what they're eating is wholesome and excellent."

Branching out into baked goods and soups became a natural extension for the shop to solve a seasonal workflow challenge created by another part of his business: farm tours.

In 1997, after Mr. Maxwell won a National Outstanding Young Farmer Award from a group that included Deere & Co., Pioneer, the Jaycees and university Extension services, Deere asked him about doing tours of his farm. The huge manufacturer's worldwide headquarters in Moline is an attraction for farmers and those in agribusiness visiting from all over the globe, and many wanted the opportunity to see a working, American farm.

Mr. Maxwell and his wife, Joan, who married in 2013, open their home in addition to their barns for these foreign tourists. "I'm very gregarious, so I love the tours," he says.

Their large dining and living-room combination has cathedral ceilings and huge picture windows, not to mention a player grand piano in the overlooking loft, for background music. Adding to the ambiance is hand-carved molding that runs the edge of the loft and features relief-style images of things found on the farm, like the family's old Maxwell truck. The beautiful room provides the perfect space to give presentations and serve a meal to touring groups.

It's no surprise that people come from far away to visit, as there is much to see at Cinnamon Ridge. The diversification of animals and crops is surprising in this era of specialization, and the dairy operation is impressively high tech. In September 2013, the Maxwells installed state-of-the-art robotic milking machines that require little intervention from humans in the day-to-day operations.

The abundance of visitors interested in the dairy and crop operations is great for business, but also presents staffing challenges due to seasonality. Most tours happen in the warmer months, which used to leave little for the cooking staff to do in the winter. Thus, the idea of selling baked goods and soup at The Country Cupboard was born. Mr. Maxwell says the cinnamon rolls in particular have been a big hit, a fitting outcome for a farm called Cinnamon Ridge.

Spend just a little time with the Maxwells, and you'll see they love what they do. Mrs. Maxwell's passion comes from the opportunity to feed the world through farming. Mr. Maxwell loves the opportunity to educate people about his work and where their food comes from through the tours.

And The Country Cupboard provides a new connection directly to consumers. Mr. Maxwell says, "I enjoy the satisfaction when someone leaves a note and says they really like our products."

A bulletin board at the back of The Country Cupboard is covered with international currency, left by visitors who have visited the farm as part of a tour and stopped by the farm stand to sample the farm goods themselves.

"Visitors from other countries often tell us how surprised they are to find something like this in America," Mr. Maxwell says. "They say in their own countries, the food would get stolen, even the building."

At a farm that seems to do everything, one might wonder what's next for Cinnamon Ridge. Mr. Maxwell is already thinking about that. He says he hopes to expand his connection to consumers through his store and partnerships with local businesses, and continue to offer unique, high-quality products.

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Oct. 20, the 293rd day of 2014. There are 72 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The store of Devoe and Crampton was entered and robbed of about $500 worth of gold pens and pocket cutlery last night.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Michael Malloy was named president of the Tri-City Stone Cutters Union.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dewitte C. Poole, former Moline newspaperman serving as vice consul general for the United States government in Paris, declared in a letter to friends that the once gay Paris is a city of sadness and desolation.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans for the construction of an $80,000 wholesale bakery at 2011 4th Ave. were announced by Harry and Nick Coin, of Rock Island. It is to be known as the Banquet Bakery.
1964 -- 50 years ago: An application has been filed for a state permit to organize a savings and loan association in Moline, it was announced. The applicants are Ben Butterworth, A.B. Lundahl, C. Richard Evans, John Harris, George Crampton and William Getz, all of Moline, Charles Roberts, Rock Island, and Charles Johnson, of Hampton.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Indian summer is quickly disappearing as temperatures slide into the 40s and 50s this week. Last week, highs were in the 80s.

(More History)