September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Woodside Farm finds niche making ice cream

Delaware dairy in Mitchell family since 1796
Jim Mitchell, and his wife, Janet, are the seventh generation at Delaware’s Woodside Farm. The family started there when George Washington was President.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED
Jim Mitchell, and his wife, Janet, are the seventh generation at Delaware’s Woodside Farm. The family started there when George Washington was President.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED

By By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HOCKESSIN, Del. - You can almost scoop up the history at Woodside Farm and place it in a bowl - much like the farm's locally famous ice cream. The 88-acre dairy farm at Hockessin, Del., traces its roots in the Mitchell family back 218 years - all the way to 1796.
That's when Jim Mitchell's great, great, great, great, grandparents purchased the place. Jim, the seventh generation to till that land, said, "George Washington was president when our family bought this farm."
As might be expected, the constant march of time has brought many changes to Woodside Farm. One of the most important came in 1961, when the dairy cows were sent packing.
Jim's father and mother, Joe and Kathy, decided they did not want to grapple with the new requirement to install a bulk tank and stop shipping milk in cans. Joe, now 84, took a job in town, but still helps milk the 35 Jerseys.
Cows came back in 1995, after a 34-year absence. That was Jim's choice.
"I just wanted to farm," he said. "I used to follow my father and grandfather around this place."
Woodside Farm began selling Grade A milk commercially in 1928. Before that, the Mitchells separated the cream from their cows' milk and made it into butter, their major source of income. They fed the skim milk to hogs that provided sausage and scrapple.
After a new herd was purchased in 1994, Jim tried intensive grazing to boost profitability. But, dissatisfied with the results, Jim and his wife, Janet, and Jim's sister, Debbie, decided they needed to find a way to add value to the milk.
"We're so limited here," Jim said. "We're literally surrounded on all sides by development. There's no room to expand."
Woodside Farm served up its first homemade ice cream in 1998. The year before, Jim attended an ice cream making short course at Penn State University. After that, the family converted a former turkey processing area into an ice cream plant and made an old wagon shed into a retail stand.
Why make ice cream? Why not something else - yogurt, perhaps?
Said Jim, matter-of-factly, "I like ice cream. I don't like yogurt."
Besides, the Mitchells figured that if history was an indicator, ice cream could do well in their area of the First State.
"Nobody had made ice cream here for a long time," Jim said. "But there were some farms back in the '50s and '60s that did. And they were busy back then."
Roughly 30 percent of the farm's milk goes to a company that makes three types of ice cream mixes for the Mitchells. The rest of their milk is sold through a co-op.
When the Mitchells get the ice cream mix back, they spice it up with enough sweet ingredients to make many dentists smile. The pair of 45-gallon batch freezers and the 10-gallon one churned out slightly more than 44,000 gallons of ice cream during 2013, according to Jim. That was during an ice cream season that ran from March until Thanksgiving.
The farm and ice cream business keep the Mitchells and 35 summertime employees plus four year-round employees plenty busy. This past summer, five people made ice cream and packed it into pint and quart containers. Many an ice cream pie and cake came out of the processing facility, too.
One aspect of the business Jim especially enjoys is concocting new ice cream flavors. A typical year for the retail stand that's right on the farm finds 35 to 40 kinds of hand-dipped ice cream on the menu board.
There are the old standbys - vanilla, chocolate and strawberry - plus more exotic types like black raspberry chip and chocolate thunder.
And then there are the flavors that really took a good bit of imagination to create.
Said Jim, "Probably our best signature flavor is called 'Motor Oil.'"
Motor Oil was developed for a nearby steam museum to sell but is also available at Woodside Farm. It's a blend of coffee, ice cream, fudge ripple and caramel ripple. The kicker is that the caramel ripple is dyed green, "to give it a little bit of an oily look," Jim said.
"That green caramel throws people. It looks kind of gross, but people really like it," Jim added.
Another unusual recipe is that for Canal Digger. This flavor was created for a restaurant in Maryland that's right along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
Canal Digger contains chunks of milk chocolate, fudge, and caramel mixed into plain vanilla ice cream.
"They wanted it to look like it had been dredged out of the bottom of the canal," Jim said.
A key to Woodside Farms' ice cream success is the large base of customers - literally thousands of people - within a short drive. The farm, in New Castle County is about 20 minutes from Wilmington and 15 minutes from Newark, Del.
Although they're vital to the success of the business, those sheer numbers of people nearby are a concern of Jim's. That's because, he said, "They don't understand what goes on on a farm, lots of times."
To help inform the public, Woodside Farms opens its doors on special occasions. One is National Ice Cream Day, the third Sunday in July. Visitors can see the production room, double-three milking parlor, and learn about manure composting and soil conservation.
One part of the day's activities is an ice cream eating contest. The record for a pint, using a spoon, is 37 seconds.
"I don't know how he did it," Jim said.
The proceeds from the ice cream day activities are donated to the Delaware food bank, as is money raised at other Woodside Farm events.
Another annual highlight for the Mitchells is opening day of the ice cream stand in late March. The special promotion - bring your own banana and get a banana split for half price - has a certain appeal. Woodside Farm sold 278 banana splits opening day one year. Yes, that's a bunch, Jim said.
The ice cream stand stays busy the rest of the season, too.
Said Jim, "Sometimes on summer evenings we'll have a line 100 feet long."
In all, Jim estimated that 140,000 people visit the retail stand each year. He's not sorry to see the ice cream season wind down at Thanksgiving.
That signals that milking will soon cease and begin anew in early March. During milking season, Jim and Joe handle the morning shift, while Debbie takes the evening routine.
Jim said he doesn't keep close track of the milk production, but the fat test is at 5.5 percent and the protein is at 3.9 percent. On the 70 percent of the milk that leaves the farm, Jim said the family recently got a mailbox price of just over $25.
As for the rest of the farm, it's devoted to hay, and pastures made up of alfalfa, clover, orchardgrass and ryegrass. In addition, Joe grows and sells 1,500 chrysanthemums for "pocket money."
Janet, along with managing the ice cream stand, is a small-animal veterinarian. Debbie, meanwhile, raises sheep and weaves their wool into artwork.
The Mitchells expect Woodside Farm to continue in the family for at least the eighth generation. Jim has a niece who has one more year of college and wants to join the business.
Jim said one of the best compliments the farm has gotten goes something like this: "This is a good thing for the community.' People really appreciate the fact that we're still here with the farm. And they appreciate the fact that we have a place they can come and spend some time with their families and friends, sit under the oak tree and relax."[[In-content Ad]]


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