Fresh & Local
Moo Thru & The Ice Cream Dream, Part 2
Column #23, Published Feb 24th, 2012
There is currently a food revolution going on, and locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat.
Last week I started a conversation with Ken Smith, the Remington dairy farmer that also owns and operates the Moo Thru ice cream store at the intersection of Rt. 29 and Rt. 28 in Remington.
As I said last week, I was in Croftburn Market in Culpeper, and I happened to see the Moo Thru milk glass bottles in a refrigerated case. I grew up in upstate New York and I can remember when dairies delivered milk in glass bottles. We had an insulated metal box on the top step by our side door, and the milkman would put the full bottles in the box and take away the empties.
That was a different era. As much work as dairy farming requires, why today would any dairyman take on the additional work of selling their milk directly, and making their own ice cream from it? The first and primary answer is “passion.”
Po Bronson in his book “What Should I Do with My Life?” explains that people who find their true passion have some common traits. “They don’t daydream about living some other life. . . . They are not always comparing their life to some other imagined life in their head. Maybe that’s the most consistent thing they report – the mind chatter stops on its own, without having to be ordered to stop . . .”
Ken Smith loves what he’s doing, and he believes his milk has a better flavor because of its freshness, how it is handled, because of the feed they use, and how the cows are grazed. All this produces rich milk with a difference that people can taste. And the chocolate milk is almost decadent.
I asked Ken about the ice cream store. I have never heard of a dairy farm building one. Ken says he knows of a group of dairy farms down around Smith Mountain Lake that bought a financial interest in a local ice cream store. But how many dairy farms have built their own ice cream store? He is the only one in Virginia.
The ice cream is all made on site. Ken and his wife Pam attended several ice cream schools, including a week-long advanced school down in North Carolina. They also took classes from equipment manufacturers, and visited other ice cream stores.
The classes and visits were necessary not only to learn how to make really good ice cream, but also to give them the credibility to convince a lender to make a loan. Being the only dairy to build an ice cream store had a down-side with lenders.
Most milk is sold through regional dairy cooperatives to large processors that supply the supermarket chains. I asked Ken about the traditional dairy business. I asked because the number of local dairy farms has plunged in the last ten years.
The Ken cited some figures to me about the financial impact of dairy farms. Every $1 in gross sales earned by dairy farms generates $5 – $7 in the local economy. When a dairy farm goes out of business, the loss to the local economy is about $2 million.
Why today would any dairyman take on the additional work of selling their milk directly? The second answer is that interest in locally grown food is growing, while the traditional business is getting tougher and tougher.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org