by Paul Revis
The package of cottage cheese in my refrigerator proclaimed it a product of Happy Farms. It is only a name plastered on a plastic tub, the catch-all name of whatever supplier got approval for that week’s batch of lumpy white dairy product for the grocery chain that sold it.
Being somewhat of a skeptic, I have my doubts when it comes to these things. Just how bloody happy can one be herding dairy cattle, especially if you are also the one responsible for the resulting cottage cheese as well? I decided to inquire.
An email to the company via its website’s “Contact Us” section got me exactly nothing as far as an answer as to how happy the farm was that produced the cottage cheese. The return missive extolled the virtues of the parent company and that, while based in Germany, they assured me that they had nothing whatsoever to do with World Wars One or Two. I hadn’t asked, but it did seem important to them for some strange reason.
As a result I found myself wondering, just for a few seconds, if the Happy Farms moniker might be a Company demand, i.e. “You vill be happy! Zis is an order!” as opposed to an assurance that in fact all was well on the now slightly more ominous Happy Farm.
With this in mind, I knew I had no choice but to proceed at all speed in case my now-rising fears proved all too true, and things were not quite as happy as we were lead to believe. Were cows being abused? Was the farmer’s wife not quite as happy to be a farmer’s wife as she might be? Were his children sneaking behind the barn, smoking the harvest of the unofficial other crop the farmer knew about but generally ignored? What is the financial position of this farmer? Keeping level, or ready to sell off the Massy Ferguson to pay the mortgage? Now that would turn the corner on the Happy bit, would it not?
How to find out became an issue: since no one at the store could tell me, or would tell me, where Happy Farms might be, the possibility of a massive cover-up now disturbed me even more. There might be little time left to save them from some impending disaster of unknown origin. What if there was more than one Happy Farm? The package did say Happy Farms, in the plural, after all, and the looming thought that so many farms were in potential danger of not being properly happy enough to satisfy the corporate edict was a disconcerting prospect.
With little other recourse, I decided that the only way to get to the bottom of this dilemma was to follow the delivery of product back to the source. Yes, it was going to be difficult. I knew that, but there was so much at stake, I had to follow it through, and I knew I didn’t have very much time to accomplish my task.
A casual inquiry of one of the people stocking shelves told me that dairy deliveries in the northeastern Chicago suburbs took place on Tuesdays, early. I was there at 4:12 a.m., hoping I wasn’t too late to catch the refrigerated truck that delivered the Happy Farms cottage cheese. It pulled into the dock at 10:45 a.m. “Thirty minutes early,” the driver said, looking rather smug about the accomplishment.
Apparently, “early” is a somewhat relative term in the grocery delivery game, or were they trying to put me off of the scent? It was a possibility, a very real possibility I began to think, what with the odd-sounding reply email and the refusal to disclose the location of the specific Happy Farms. I began to see in my mind farmers clothed in rags, chained to their barns, tending herds of unruly dairy cattle under the lash of jackbooted taskmasters. I knew that only I could save them from this horror, but only if I hurried, if only my heart were pure and only if I could finally discover the truth.
I slouched down in my car in the hope that the driver wouldn’t see me and inform his handlers that he was being followed. Once the delivery was made, I followed the truck through four more stops. Despite its size, I almost lost him in the rush-hour traffic as he made his way back to an ominous-looking terminal, just in time to see the doors close for the day.
Obviously I had to be there when the terminal opened in the morning, whenever that was, to catch sight of the delivery to the terminal. Not as easy as I would have wanted it to be, however, as the security guard banged on my window and made it abundantly clear that my presence was, in his words, “unauthorized.” Now I had several options at this point, none of them good, so I used the most obvious one. I asked the security guy when the delivery usually took place. “Early,” he said.
Since I now had a working idea of what “early” meant in the world of Happy Farms, I decided to return to the terminal at around 9:00 a.m. in order to catch the incoming shipment with some time to spare. I was five hours late. Truly, “early” is a very fluid term in Happy Farms land. But, more importantly, unlike the store deliveries, deliveries to the terminal were a constant, and I happened to catch a delivery of dairy products just as I was leaving. My sleuthing was proving to be successful.
The fading sign on the truck’s door said; Ramone and Hernandez Trucking, and a town in Indiana. Instead of following the truck back to its starting point, I decided to take the easy way out. I asked the grizzled and unhappy-looking driver if he came from Happy Farms. He gave a laugh, spat on the ground, and got back into his truck.
“Where is Happy Farms then?” I asked, sounding as desperate as I could.
He laughed again and drove away from the dock. “Bastard!” I said to no one in particular, jumped back into my car and followed him.....all the way to Wherever Dipstick, Indiana, some 327 miles away. I am nothing if not tenacious.
The truck finally stopped at its home dock, and the driver got out and came after me. He had something in his hand, but I couldn’t tell exactly what it might be, and frankly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know.
“You’ve been following me for 236 miles, jackass. What the hell do you want?”
“It’s 237 miles, actually. Where is Happy Farms?”
“You were serious? You think there is a real Happy Farms? Are you delusional?”
“No, curious. And tenacious.”
“The production dairy is four miles down the road that way,” he said and pointed down an almost deserted road. “That’s where they package the stuff, and they can tell you where the nearest farm is that supplies them. Has anyone else questioned your level of sanity lately, bud?”
“Thanks, and no. What’s the name of the dairy that does the packaging?”
“Wiggins Quality Dairy,” he said.
“So, not Happy Farms?”
“No, not Happy Farms, you nut case. Go, before I call somebody to cart your weird ass off.” He spat again, some nasty looking brown stuff that I took to be chewing tobacco.
He had given me a lot of important information, and all I had to do was endure his abuse and a possible ass-kicking for following him. Truck drivers don’t appear to like that sort of thing I find, and I filed that bit of information away in my head for possible use later.
Sure enough, four miles down the road sat Wiggins Quality Dairy Products taking up six or so acres of prime Indiana farm land. It occurred to me that Indiana was not known for dairy products as much as for the production of corn and soybean products. I vowed to ask about that if I could find someone willing to talk to me.
It was obvious that, upon closer examination, the Wiggins Quality Dairy Products facility had seen its prime several years earlier; the weeds were beginning to take over the grounds, windows were streaked with dirt, and even the office door was slightly off-center in its frame.
I boldly entered through the squeaking door, ready to do verbal battle with whatever entity I happened to encounter.
“We’re ready to close the office for the evening, sir,” said the extremely pretty receptionist behind the desk with a toss of her long blonde hair.
“Happy Farms,” I stammered. I go all weak in the presence of pretty girls. Might be why I’m still single at 42.
“Yes, that is one of the brands we supply. Did you have a question or concern about the product? We usually ask that you direct questions to the store you purchased the product from.”
“Where are the Happy Farms? Are they happy? Do you know?”
“Ah, well...” she stammered, “I guess you could say that we are Happy Farms. We package the product under that trademark, so—”
“You aren’t a farm. You’re a dairy. I need to see a Happy Farms farm.”
“Why?” she asked.
“To see if they’re happy enough to warrant the Happy Farms name.”
She picked up her phone, dialed three numbers and asked for Mr. Wiggins. She went to the top for me on this one. I was impressed, and not a little grateful.
Mr. Wiggins was nothing like one would expect a successful dairyman to look like, and he was decidedly not a candidate for a Happy Farmer. Frowning and grumbling, he approached the 300-pound mark, his face pockmarked and with a slightly bent nose, He was wearing a nondescript sweatshirt from his alma mater, a local community college, and denim trousers.
“What is the problem here, Megan?” he grumbled. “It’s time to go home, and Martha doesn’t like it when I’m late.”
“I’m looking for Happy Farms,” I repeated undauntedly. “I’m curious as to whether they’re really as happy as they advertise.”
Wiggins grabbed a Post-It note from Megan’s desk and wrote an address on it in capital letters.
“Go ask them,” he said gruffly. “They’re our biggest supplier. Go home, Megan, so this dufus can leave.”
“Why a dairy processing plant in the middle of corn country?” I asked, doggedly, my tenacity showing.
“Because I can!” growled Wiggins after very long pause, and there was little doubt that there would be no further explanation.
I can take a hint. With a last longing look at the lovely Megan, I opened the squeaking office door and headed for my car once again.
Down three back roads, one of gravel, I came on to the farm whose address Wiggins had given me. It was truly idyllic. Beautiful old brick farmhouse, neat and tidy yard with a large well-kept barn and shining equipment. It was, however, strangely quiet. No cattle sounds, no running equipment, no sounds of people. Only the sound of rustling tree leaves in the slight breeze.
I found myself wondering if in fact there might be something less than Happy going on here, so I proceeded with extreme caution toward the “neat as a pin” house. A quick peek through the window in the door revealed what appeared to be a man on a high ladder holding a rope tied at one end to a high ceiling beam, the other end knotted into a crude noose. He was in process of placing the noose end around his neck.
I quickly grabbed the door knob and vainly attempted to get to him before he jumped off of the ladder. Hearing the noise at the door, the man turned towards me, screamed for me to get away, and jumped. I was in the process of smashing the glass when he jumped, but given the height from which he fell and the length of the rope, I was too late.
After calling the police, I looked around a bit and discovered that he had slaughtered his entire family as well as the entire herd of dairy cattle in the barn. I found his suicide note and discovered that what I had suspected all along was true: he wasn’t quite that happy after all.
Now I’ve been wondering about the Happy Harvest people...
Copyright © 2018 by Paul Revis