Wright's Dairy family book documents four generations
Wright's Dairy family book documents four generations
NORTH SMITHFIELD - George Wright, the great grandfather of the family members who now operate Wright's Dairy Farm & Bakery, purchased 90 acres of land in North Smithfield for farming in 1896, and moved his pregnant wife and three children to a home on the property in 1914. That farm has since grown into a massive and efficient operation, employing more than 70 local bakers, dairy plant workers and grounds hands, and producing several types of milk, ice cream and cakes, plus a mind boggling assortment of other baked goodies, from pastries and muffins, to pies.
Members of the Wright tribe will have lived and worked on the Woonsocket Hill Road land for 100 years next month, and the latest generation has preserved the family's story, documenting the changes and decisions that allowed the farm to grow and prosper over the years in a new book: Wright's Dairy Farm: A History in Four Voices.
The idea for the book was "baked up," so to speak, by a regular customer who stopped in often for milk and muffins. Like so many in town, personal historian Sarah Merrill made the store at the dairy farm a regular stop not long after moving to North Smithfield in 2006.
A former journalist who has been helping clients to compile family and business histories and individual memoirs for the past two years through her business, Merrill Memoirs, Merrill knew the Wright's must have an interesting tale or two.
"I didn't know any of the history of it, but I knew it had been in the family for generations and to me that struck me as a really important story to document," said Merrill. "With a small family-run business such as Wright's Farm, the history of the family and the history of the business are intimately intertwined."
Merrill interviewed individuals representing three of the four generations that have run the farm over the past century, including Doris Wright, the youngest of George's children and a member of the second generation to grow up on the farm.
Originally, the book was intended to provide a keepsake for family members, but once they saw the final product, a compilation of four perspectives on the farm's history complimented by plenty of family photos, the Wrights saw a value in offering it to their customers.
"One of the common threads that's gone through all of the generations is that we've always sold direct to the public," said Elizabeth Dulude, one of the fourth generation siblings now in charge. "It's changed and warped over the years, but all the generations have done that."
Merrill was impressed by another common thread at the successful family business: the ability to change and adapt operations when success was far from guaranteed.
"I think one of the things that stuck out for me about the business and how it grew was the willingness to take chances," said Merrill. "Clearly it was good decision making, but there was also a bit of risk taking that went on."
Unlike many farms of its size, the Wrights purchased their own equipment for pasteurization early on, cutting out the middle man and the need to ship their milk off site.
"This was a self-sufficient little farm in those days," said Eddie Wright. Eddie, who took over operations of the farm from his father Ernest at the ripe age of 18, is also one of the voices in the book.
Another perspective is provided by Eddie's now ex wife Claire Boudreault, the woman who added home baked goods to the farm's business model in the 1970's, after the land had been officially sold to her husband.
Both Eddie and Claire still live on the property, an expanded enterprise serving up thousands of cakes and pies over the holiday season.
The Wrights also credit their success with a willingness to listen to their customers.
"In the beginning you're just trying to satisfy the needs of the time and make a strong business, but it was hard to imagine that it would get as popular as it is," said Elizabeth. "We couldn't have planned that and I think if we were trying to get there it wouldn't have happened."
Elizabeth's generation has continued to adapt to satisfy demand, and ensure the farms continued growth.
Ellen Puccetti, for example, the oldest of Eddie and Claire's children, took a cake baking class on a whim years back, and now manages a wedding and birthday cake decorating operation the rivals any in the area. Puccetti provides a fourth voice in Merrill's book.
In 2004, the family added on a 2,400-square-foot retail center, and an extra floor for office space, freeing up more room for their expanding kitchen. The family added ice cream to their repertoire five years ago, around the time they also upgraded the machinery in their milking barn by purchasing new state-of-the-art equipment.
Brother Clayton also makes a full time living at the farm as do three of the sibling's spouses. Ellen's husband, Steven Puccetti, manages the herd. Elizabeth's husband, Paul Dulude, runs the bakery. Jennifer's (Wright) Roberts, who keeps a separate full time job but is still involved in the farm's decision making, is married to David Roberts, who manages the dairy plant.
"Part of the reason I enjoy Wright's and I like bringing my kids here is that sense of community and the trust," said Merrill of the Wright's experience. "For a lot of families who come here, their families have been buying food here for generations."
Eddie agrees that trust is a big part of the Wright's formula.
"Customers have to trust in you," he said. "I think this is what we did."
Wright's Dairy Farm: A History in Four Voices will be sold in the shop starting this week, and the soft cover book will cost $12.
"Every family has a story that should be documented, and if you don't document the stories, they disappear as people disappear from families," said Merrill. "To me, that's what a legacy is. That's what's most important to leave behind, not material possessions."