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Blake Gendebien elected regional Agri-Mark director

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CANTON — Blake P. Gendebien was elected region 10 director of the Agri-Mark Family Dairy Farms Cooperative at the 2013 annual meeting held Wednesday at the Best Western.

Mr. Gendebien has served as director since 2012, following the death of his predecessor Merrill Reynolds, and his election at the annual meeting marks the beginning of his first full, three-year term.

The vote was unanimous in favor of Mr. Gendebien, who owns a dairy farm in Lisbon, and Mr. Gendebien said he hopes to serve as a brand ambassador on behalf of the cooperative’s members.

Mr. Gendebien said his “number one burden and responsibility” is to help ensure the financial stability of the cooperative.

After that, Mr. Gendebien said, he wants to be part of the cooperative’s mission to reach out to the community and engage a society that is increasingly detached from the farm.

“My role is to support and advocate to the region our sustainability initiative,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to be stewards of our community, and our animals, our employees and to our planet.”

Agri-Mark, which boasts more than 1,200 members in the northeast, has been aggressively reaching out to consumers up and down the eastern sea-board with new, premium branding and efforts to familiarize the general public with the dairy farming process.

Agri-Mark owns the Cabot, McCadam and Agri-Mark Whey and Dairy Proteins brands.

Mr. Gendebien said he sees better marketing as being an integral part of the overall sustainability of dairy farming. “We have the responsibility to show how [good] a job we’re doing at our factories.”

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Vice Chair of the Board Mike Barnes said, “We’re getting two or three generations away from the farm and people just don’t understand how our food is produced.”

Mr. Barnes said farmers need to become better at communicating with the general public as part of an effort to secure the long term viability of the industry.

Chief Financial Officer Edward Townley said, “We make exceptionally good cheese, but unfortunately most of our customers don’t appreciate that.”

In order to attract more customers and foster brand-loyalty Agri-Mark has been inviting customers to their dairy farms in Open Farm Days and via the internet with virtual tours. Farmers have also been traveling to some of the larger market places, like New York City, and talking to people in the dairy aisles about their products.

Lisbon-based dairy farmer Mark H. Akins hosted an Open Farm Day in October where members of the community were invited to come and see how the farming process works.

Mr. Akins said having people on the farm was a great way to make a connection between the Cabot brand and the local farming community.

In addition to face-to-face meetings with customers, Agri-Mark has launched a line of premium cheeses known collectively as the “Farmers’ Legacy Collection.”

The new cheeses have been launched in Florida and other southeastern markets and will be making their way to the northeast in 2014.

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