Liz McNamara ’01 Cultivates a Farm Evolution

McNamara chocolate milk is a mainstay in Doe Dining Hall, but the McNamara family's growing enterprise ensures a sweet summer for locals and visitors alike here in Plainfield.
More family meant the McNamaras needed more taps. “My brothers and two younger cousins came home directly from college and wanted to expand upon the small syrup making we had always done for the family,” says Liz McNamara ’01. That next generation—including Liz, Jeff ’05, Nate ’06, Jason ’07, and Adam ’09—grew the sugaring operation from a couple hundred to almost 1,000 taps by 2013.

Then, when Liz returned to the family farm in 2014 after almost a decade teaching high-school science, she took on the next challenge: developing, marketing, and selling a new brand—Mac’s Maple. “We were well known for our local milk, but when I came home that made seven families to support plus our employees,” says Liz. “Building a new portion of the farm from the ground up was exciting. It gives the competitor in me something to strive for; it challenges me to be creative and weave in my love for education.”

Her efforts build on a legacy of evolution that reaches back to her grandparents’ purchase of the Plainfield, N.H., farm in 1950. They ran a dairy operation until 1968, when they were forced to sell and transitioned to raising, training, and eventually racing Standardbred horses. By the early 1990s, the McNamara family—led by Tom ’75 and Claire and Pat ’76 and Mary—was racing across New England five to six nights a week. When off-track betting came into play, the local racing industry stalled. The family returned to cows, building the herd to about 80 and opening the glass bottling facility in 1992. “Today, we milk about 220 cows, keep a flock of laying hens, raise a small beef herd, and round out the mix with a couple of goats, mini donkeys, and horses,” says Liz, adding almost all the feed the animals consume is raised on site.

“The current foundation of the farm is in the dairy industry—an industry that is struggling to survive,” she says. “So, growing the maple side of the business seemed like a good idea for the future success of the farm.” Now running 30,000 taps, the maple operation has also fueled expansion of the year-round farm store. There, consumers can find milk, eggs, meat, and a range of Mac’s Maple products, from maple kettle corn to maple butter and candy.

But the parking lot really fills in the summer, when locals and tourists flock for a maple creamee. “We make the ice cream base here in our dairy with the milk from our cows and combine it with our maple syrup—it can’t be matched,” says Liz. On her rare free evenings, she’ll also take a refrigerated cart to weddings and fairs - and even a KUA reunion. As summer approaches, she’s dreaming up new combinations for ice cream sundaes. “These are so much more than just hot fudge and whipped cream,” says Liz. “We are also working on using our cream and syrup to develop a maple fudge to add to the lineup.”

She hopes visitors walk away with more than a sweet treat, though. “We invite everyone to visit and just experience a real working farm,” says Liz. “As agriculture continues to fade as an occupation, people are left with less and less connection and knowledge about their food. I firmly believe that the more we can connect consumers to where their food comes from, the better it is for them and for the farmers.”

This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2024 issue of Kimball Union Magazine.