The Wisner Family of Warwick
The business: Bellvale Farms
Date founded: 1818
Number of generations: 6
Number of family members working together: 5
Owners: Al Buckbee, wife Judy Buckbee, son Al “Skip” Buckbee, daughter Amy Noteboom, son-in-law Tim Noteboom
What it does: In 1818, the Wisner family started a dairy farm to provide milk, eggs, vegetables, and fruits for themselves, but, as was typical of the times, they also sold to others when they had excess inventory, says Amy Noteboom, who represents one of the six generations of the family business. Amy’s father, Al Buckbee, worked on the farm growing up, went to agriculture school at Kansas State University, then segued to the insurance business in New York while working on the farm on the side. Once he retired in 1992, he returned to the farm full-time, working more hours than he did in corporate America, says Amy. She also grew up on the farm, along with her brother Al “Skip” Buckbee, and today they work together along with their dad and Amy’s husband, Tim.
But they knew that having so many families in the business required them to expand their options. “We had to either add more cows or go retail,” she says. They decided to go the retail route and opened Bellvale Farms Creamery in Warwick 12 years ago.” We had first started selling fruits and vegetables to see if we liked retail, and that was successful, but we stopped that to open the Creamery,” Amy explains.
On any given day between April and October, they sell 20 flavors, which they rotate. They also knew to divide responsibilities to get along. Tim manages the dairy, Amy and her husband the Creamery, and their father is involved in day-to-day needs. “Anything that needs to be done, he does,” Amy says. She echoes a sentiment many others in family businesses do. “I love it,” she says. “It’s been a good place to raise our kids, who are now 14 and 16.” But she’s not pushing them to join the business. “If they want to, that’s great, but they should work elsewhere first like we did. And they’ll need to figure out, too, how to change the business for it to survive. I’m sure my grandfather wouldn’t have been able to imagine us selling ice cream.”