Ice cream saves the family farm
As families grow, dairy farmers often realize that they need to enlarge their farming operations as well. Instead of taking on more cows and producing more milk to sell wholesale in a market with wildly fluctuating prices, some opt to add value to that milk by making ice cream, gelato, cheese or yogurt. In celebration of Virginia Ice Cream Month, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services salutes farms that use ice cream to make a profit, diversify their economic base and keep the family farm operating.
Homestead Creamery, Wirtz, VA
In 2001 two dairy farmers in Franklin County who were seeking a higher, more consistent price for their milk to improve profitability and sustainability on their family farms created Homestead Creamery, Inc., a producer and distributer of bottled milk, ice cream and other dairy products. It’s a classic case of adding value to a raw commodity, fluid milk, to command higher and more stable prices for their products.
Almost all of the milk they use comes from two dairy farms owned by two of the company’s principal owners, with additional milk purchased from a nearby farm in Franklin County. The company distributes to a number of grocery and specialty stores and also offers home delivery in their area. Homestead also runs a farm market at its production facility in Wirtz featuring Virginia’s Finest and Virginia Grown products. They use only local eggs in their products and sell local eggs in the farm market.
Homestead Creamery didn’t just save the two dairy farms of its founders. With a new expansion in the works, it will continue to provide enhanced sales opportunities for more than 45 agricultural producers in the Commonwealth, including additional dairies and vegetable producers from Franklin County. In round numbers, over the next three years Homestead Creamery will buy an additional 500,000 gallons of milk and cream and more than 10,000 dozen eggs from local farmers.
Moo Thru, Remington, VA
The milk used in Moo Thru ice cream comes from a herd of prize-winning, grass-fed Holstein cows grazed on Ken Smith’s Cool Lawn Farm. He opened the ice cream shop in June 2010 using money he got from preserving the farm by selling development rights to the county and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. He used the funds to buy an acre at the intersection of routes 28 and 29 and established the Moo Thru as a retail outlet for his ice cream and milk products. The busy intersection handles a traffic load of 30,000 cars daily.
Moo Thru’s product line includes hand dipped/scooped ice cream, soft serve ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes and fresh milk in glass bottles. In its first year, Moo Thru sold 100,000 ice cream cones made from some of the 1.4 million gallons of milk the Cool Lawn cows produce each year.
“The dairy business is tough right now,” said Ken, “and if you don’t continue to grow, the economy just eats up your profits. Our farm is successful, but because of development in the area, we can’t grow large enough to support another family just in the dairy business. At Moo Thru ice cream did not so much save the farm as keep the family on the farm.”
Non-dairy farms and small farms that benefit from ice cream
It isn’t just the traditional dairy farms that benefits from making, serving or selling ice cream. Chiles Orchard in Crozet is a fifth-generation orchard that specializes in peaches and apples but also grows strawberries, sweet cherries and pumpkins. Their on-site ice cream parlor offers delicious frozen yogurt and soft-serve ice cream, cider slushies, milkshakes and ice cream sundaes made with fresh seasonal fruit. The shakes are a perennial favorite, made with fresh-picked, fresh-sliced strawberries or peaches.
College Run Farm in Surry County is a pick-your-own farm with strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins and other seasonal vegetables. Owners Steve and Jordan Berryman make ice cream on site using their own strawberries. They produce most of it in a batch freezer in the kitchen and occasionally use a John Deere ice cream maker that looks like an old-fashioned tractor. They produce a 16 percent butter fat product that is a hit locally and with tourists in the Williamsburg area. Steve said, “It’s just one more way we add diversity to our farm and keep more of our dollars in our own hands as we sell directly to customers in our fields, in the on-farm store and at farmers’ markets.”
Finchville Dairy, LLC, in Spotsylvania is a new enterprise, made possible by ice cream, or in this case, gelato. Scott Cook has an ag degree and worked in related fields, but not as a farmer. On their 40 acres, they’ve had horses, pigs, chickens and lambs, but farming was not their business. When Scott retired he and his wife Sharon started a micro dairy. Right now they milk four or five cows, not enough to sell wholesale fluid milk. VDACS encouraged them to produce a value-added product instead. Sharon worked for months to develop her gelato recipe, a hybrid that combines the richness of homemade with the cost-effectiveness of a commercial product. Gelato is the mainstay of their operation and “it’s where my heart is,” Sharon said.
In these examples, ice cream has been the catalyst to save the farm, to keep the family on the farm, to diversify the product lines for pick-your-own farms and to provide a living and a lifestyle they love for retired farmers. That’s a lot to ask, but ice cream delivers.
Facts You May Not Know about Ice Cream:
Ice cream comes from the third highest ranking agricultural product in Virginia, milk, with $395 million in cash receipts in 2012. The U.S. ice cream industry generated total revenues of $10 billion in 2010. Roughly nine percent of all the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the nation’s dairy industry. VDACS has issued 74 permits to manufacture and sell ice cream and frozen desserts to companies operating in the Commonwealth.
Each half cup of ice cream contains 10 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium and 10 percent of the recommended value of protein, as well as Vitamins D, A, B-12 and K. Ice cream has a low glycemic index, meaning there is less chance it will cause sugar spikes and drops associated with most carbohydrates.
“When you enjoy ice cream in July or any time, remember that you are helping our Virginia farms,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. “As the chief menu-planner and cook at my house, I tell my children it’s not just a treat, it’s a tasty farmland preservation tool – not that they need an excuse to eat ice cream.”