Towards an orderly account of why Buzzards Bay Brewing is a 21+ adult-friendly brewery.

The truth is, I love families, and I enjoy the company of children.

In many ways, I prefer their company to the company of adults (usually, there’s a much better, more imaginative, and livelier conversation to be had with kids!).  Upon graduating from college, I returned to the summer camp that I’d attended as a boy as the “Tripping Department” head.  The camp director entrusted me with organizing and leading all the overnight hikes and multi-day canoe trips (for boys aged 8 through 15) throughout the summer.

After a couple of years in that position, the director asked me to step up into the role of program director. During that summer, I fell in love with the camp nurse and her 6-year-old son.  Two years later, we were married, and she and my stepson joined me in Westport.  You see, I like kids so much that I jump-started a family!  And in 2008, my wife, Daryl, and I started a non-profit school for orphaned and destitute children.  I love kids.

Even though the Buzzard serves nothing but alcohol, I decided to open it to all ages.

So, it was natural that when I opened our brewery in 1998, my team discussed whether to make it open to all ages.  A handful of breweries existed in the Bay State (less than 20).  There was no “taproom culture” to use as a model.  I made decisions without any outside influence, merely a gut feel for engaging the public.  Even though the Buzzard serves nothing but alcohol, I decided to open it to all ages.

Over the decades since that decision, I have continued to assess it.

…one thing I found that got children into hairy situations was this: the parent was distracted by good company, interesting conversation with friends, and delicious beer while the child was off on their own

Anyone who has visited us knows that I started putting out fliers several years back, handed to folks with children. First, I described ourselves on our website and the printed page as an “adult facility where well-behaved children in the company of an adult are welcome.” Then I hung large banners to enforce this further.  And I posted a multitude of signs that had one, single, cardinal rule: #nofreerangekids. But, over and over throughout the years, the one thing I found that got children into hairy situations was this: the parent was distracted by good company, interesting conversation with friends, and delicious beer while the child was off on their own.

Let me return to my many years working at a summer camp.  While running our tripping department might seem like a lot of fun (and it was), the number one rule on all trips was this: keep the child safe.  We joked that our motto was “bring them back alive” (even printing tripping staff shirts with that phrase), but we all knew that “alive” meant “whole and healthy and without any injury.” So, when even minor injuries occurred to children at my family’s brewery, I took that very seriously.  I began asking our staff to become the enforcers of our one cardinal rule (#nofreerangekids), hiring extra staff to ensure its compliance. But, as you might imagine, herding “free-range kids” is a bit like herding the proverbial cat.  Turn your back for one second, and they are off, looking for something fun to do (while Mom, Dad, others are distracted).

I am merely assessing whether my team could enforce the cardinal rule, no free-range kids.

I recognize that most any parent reading this will say to themselves: “That is not me, never. I’d comply 24/7, 365.” To be fair, many parents did.  But certainly not all, and from my years of observation, not the majority.  I am not making a judgment call on good vs. bad parenting; I am merely assessing whether my team could enforce the cardinal rule, no free-range kids.  Countless times, I looked from my window to determine how we were doing, only to see multiple children unattended by an adult.  On one occasion, when asked where their parents were, the oldest of a group of several other children responded indignantly, “Who do you think you are?  The owner?” Seriously. And the parents were literally out of sight, far across the lawn.

Not that being in the direct company of an adult has always made a difference.  On one occasion, while strolling across the gravel by our large central maple tree (the one we light in the winter), a group of adults waved.  Then a child’s voice chirped, perhaps 5 feet above the adults. “Excuse me, is there someone in the tree?” The parents said, “Oh, it’s just Julia.” And then a second child’s voice sung out, this time nearly 3/4 of the way up in the tree, a good 25′ from the ground.  Now, mind this, I am a fan of tree climbing.  I know how to assess pine tree limbs for strength and to avoid dead limbs. I know to avoid climbs during gypsy moth season (for the sheer desire to avoid grabbing a limb and finding it squishy with now-dead gypsy moth caterpillars covering my hand).  Tree-climbing teaches many lessons. But tree-climbing in a tree at our brewery, surrounded by head-smashing stone walls?  With parents drinking beers allowing it?  Bad call.

The time from the event of her tumble to the parent’s arrival (and police/ambulance) was over 10 minutes. 

On another occasion, a very young girl (she was 3 or 4) took a tumble down our steep retaining wall and lay motionless.  The nearby crowd stared as our staff did their best to assess her physical state.  The Buzzard team could not locate her parents and called 911.  The authorities arrived just as the parent did.  The time from the event of her tumble to the parent’s arrival (and police/ambulance) was over 10 minutes.  Imagine the panicked feeling of not knowing whether she was severely injured. My staff’s nerves were beyond frayed; I still get jittery recollecting those moments. But, it all ended well; the girl was lying there, no injury, just a child on-her-own and afraid.

We have experienced many close calls like these.  No matter what I did: extra staff, banners, flyers, signs, I observed far too many incidents that put children (away from adult supervision) in harm’s way.  I do not want to be “that” brewery.  Not “that” place where a three-year-old, who wandered over to our pond, drowned (it takes but minutes to end a life).  Not that place where a girl, but eight years old, falls from a tree and is seriously injured.  Not “that” place.

If safety is my number one core value, how could I continue?  Yet, these many incidents didn’t change our policy at that time.

Why?

Me.

…deciding to change our path and become an adult-friendly, 21+ brewery was a bit of a seismic shift for my soul.

I cannot tell you how many times I reminded the staff that we were seeing children OUTSIDE!  Children playing outside on green grass rather than inside, locked to a gaming console!  I marveled at it and took some pride in knowing that visiting children got to enjoy the fresh air and open spaces of my family’s farm.  And, I thought that to be a wonderful thing worth preserving! So, deciding to change our path and become an adult-friendly, 21+ brewery was a bit of a seismic shift for my soul.

I think we can all agree that keeping children safe is very important

The past year, 2020 to 2021, was nothing if not challenging.  I navigated through the COVID19 shutdown, restart, and mandated guidelines with one central core value: Keep my team safe, and I keep the public safe.  This mantra informed every decision.  I maneuvered through every change of service and weighed every purchase (gloves, sanitizer, masks, equipment) with safety as the central concern.  I learned to toss aside business merely for-profit and realized that I needed to keep people safe to stay in business.  Now, having reaped the benefit of massive vaccination efforts and returned to a pre-COVID19 existence, I realize that a hard-wired concern regarding the safety of guests is my new normal.  So, as I pondered our re-opening this past spring, I recognized that any solid, wholesome, loving society regards children’s safety as a core value.  I think we can all agree that keeping children safe is very important.  I decided that I would no longer justify children on our farm but rather I could encourage parents to pursue family activities elsewhere (with the current exception of planned/experimental “Family Days” when extra staff and focused activities are key to preventing #freerangekids). Again, this was not an easy recognition nor decision.  It is, however, the right thing. I don’t think I will convince every reader to understand my perspective.  But it’s simply my call, and I have made it.

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In closing, I want to urge you to get your kids outside!  Let them explore nature!  Teach them,
explore with them.  Want to experience a natural setting like our farm?  I hope you do.  As you gather the kids (and pack up a cooler with food and beer) and head to any of our excellent state or local parks, please consider a locally grown, locally crafted beer.  I wish for you to have sunshine, fresh air, marvelous memories, laughter, and adventure.   I wish you the best of times. I wish you safety and health.  I thank you for your support of our farm.  And I wish for you a peaceful day.

 

 

Sincerely,

Bill Russell
President and Flounder
Buzzards Bay Brewing