If you ask 10 people in Dracut what the most well-known business in town is, probably seven of them will say Shaw Farm. And for good reason.
Shaw Farm has been around since 1908 and celebrates its 115th year in 2023. In a town known for its many farms, Shaw’s is the granddaddy. Its milk and ice cream are known and beloved far and wide. (Dracut Economic Development is confident in its belief that Shaw’s chocolate ice cream is the best around. Then again, chocolate ice cream is like pizza – there isn’t a bad one.)
Warren Shaw has been working the farm since he was old enough to hold a hoe. At 71, he represents the fourth generation of Shaws to run the farm. His son, Mark, part-owner and the farm manager, is the fifth generation, and daughter Lyndie’s son, Matthew, now works on the farm, making him the sixth generation.
Through it all, Shaw’s hasn’t stopped growing and changing.
“I call it a 115-year-old startup,” Warren says. “All has been changed. All new buildings, new investments.”
The largest and most visible of those investments is the farm stand that opened in 2009, built on to the ice-cream stand that was already there.
“This was the biggest investment we made,” Warren says from his office on the second floor of the farm stand. “But we also built new animal housing, added a solar field with 1,400 panels, and we’ve acquired land.”
Shaw Farm began in 1908, when Mark Loran Shaw Jr. – the second of five M.L. Shaws in the line so far – bought two parcels of land on New Boston Road. While establishing his own farm, Mark worked on the nearby Coburn Farm, where his father had worked before him. In 1915, Coburn Farm lost its entire herd of cows to foot-and-mouth disease. For his dedicated service, Mark was offered the chance to take on Coburn’s delivery customers. Thus began M.L. Shaw and Son’s milk-delivery business.
Fast-forward more than a century. Shaw Farm is run by the original M.L.’s great-grandson, Warren, who co-owns and manages the farm with his son, Mark, who turns 36 in August (the same age as M.L. Shaw’s Country Kitchen, the restaurant Warren and his sister, Ruth, started in 1986 and named after the founder of the family farm). The restaurant on Broadway Road is owned and run by Warren’s daughter, Lyndie, and her husband, Jim Zolkos.
“Lyndie is a much better restaurant person than her father is,” Warren admits.
In 2000, with Shaw’s homemade ice cream becoming more and more popular, the family opened an ice-cream stand on the property.
Nine years later, the new farm stand was added on, bringing a whole new retail side to the operation.
Shaw’s delivery, started by the original M.L. Shaw as a way to get milk to the masses, is now a booming business that includes anything the farm stand sells, not just milk. The Shaw’s delivery truck travels as far as Newburyport, though most of the routes are in Dracut and surrounding communities.
“During the pandemic, delivery exploded,” Warren says. “We had a difficult time keeping up with it.”
Shaw Farm’s wholesale business is also healthy. Venture out to certain stores and supermarkets – even other farms – and you’ll find Shaw’s milk and ice cream. Retail outlets and restaurants such as Stonybrook Farm in Westford, Owen & Ollie’s in Dracut, Lull Farm in Hollis and Milford, N.H., Brox Farm and Farmer Dave’s in Dracut, Mann’s Orchard in Methuen and Alpine Butcher in Lowell carry Shaw Farm products.
These days, while Warren is still the face of Shaw Farm, Mark is taking on more and more of the business side of the operation.
“Mark has substantial involvement in the management of the farm,” Warren says, adding that both are constantly looking at ways to expand and improve.
“Mark and I have been discussing the future of the production side,” Warren says. “We need a facility, either here or somewhere else, to make more milk. We have an 85-cow facility, and most of the year it’s full. We can’t grow sales without growing that, too. But that’s more to do with Mark than me. He’ll be around a lot longer than I will.”
A lot of Warren’s time is taken up by his new position as president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the largest agricultural trade organization in the state. He also has 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild to spoil and his biweekly Saturday morning radio show on WCAP.
But even as Mark takes on more responsibility on the farm, Warren’s still hands-on, and he says with certainty that the farm that bears his family’s name “will continue to grow.”
As he says, “Shaw Farm is an old company that still thinks it’s a teenager.”