Hightail Ice Cream offers standard vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, along with flavors that feature homemade ingredients.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Hightail Ice Cream offers standard vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, along with flavors that feature homemade ingredients. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    PLAINFIELD, Iowa – Twenty-year-old Natalie Eick is chasing a dream born of many long conversations with her dairy farmer dad. She has started her own ice cream and food delivery business with hopes of using the experience to help her along the road to becoming the third generation on the family’s Plainfield farm.
    Eick makes and sells ice cream under the brand name Hightail Ice Cream and Delivery, a venture she began last year on her summer break from studying agricultural business at Iowa State University. This summer, she added a service delivering other farm-to-consumer foods from northeast Iowa to customers within 50 miles of her home.
    “The whole reason I wanted to pursue this is to continue my family’s legacy. (Dad and I) came to the conclusion that value-added might be the way to go,” Eick said. “I was sitting in my dorm room at school when I came up with (the idea). I had literally no idea how to start a business, but I was determined to make it happen.”
    After research and conversation with friends and ISU faculty, Eick was ready to make super-premium hard ice cream, but it was a connection with her grandmother’s assisted living facility that sealed the deal. The new accommodation in nearby Sumner includes a pub, hair salon, movie theatre and an ice cream shop.
    “I noticed the ice cream shop had been sitting empty for a while and the soft-serve machine was always out of order,” Eick said. “As it turned out, the residents had been pressing buttons on the machine that they weren’t supposed to, causing it to constantly be broken. I also found out that the residents were not happy about not having ice cream.”
    Eick struck a deal with the facility. In return for providing weekly ice cream socials to the residents, the budding entrepreneur could use the space for making and storing her products and materials. As a bonus, the residents taste-tested Eick’s ice cream inventions. Current flavors include monster cookie, peanut butter cup and hot fudge brownie, along with the standard vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. But others have been tried and occasionally added.
    “One time I made them carrot cake ice cream,” Eick said. “There was a freeze-dried package of shredded carrots that I could choose whether or not to put in. Long story short, I did, and they were not a fan of them. A lot of them claimed that I shouldn’t ever put vegetables in the ice cream again.”
    Conversely, strawberry pretzel has become a favorite Hightail flavor. It is a takeoff on a salad many Midwesterners have had at family potlucks, Eick said.
    Eick also gets help making the ice cream and ingredients from her grandmother, Berneice Rich, who lives at the facility, her aunt, Lynn Pleggenkuhle, and her mother, Kelly. Her father, Terry, helps with events and planning for deliveries.  
    However, Hightail is not all fun and games for Eick. Because much of her first summer’s business came from fairs and events, COVID-19 created new challenges. It led to incorporating home delivery of items like milk, cheese curds, eggs, produce, beef and pork into the business.
    “Ice cream is nice, but it’s hard to have consistent volume and sales each week,” Eick said. “The expansion really helps to balance that out.”
    Currently, she makes ice cream one or two days a week, delivering 20 to 30 gallons on regular deliveries and sometimes up to 60 gallons for special events. She delivers all products free in her home counties of Bremer and Chickasaw, and markets mainly through Facebook and word-of-mouth.
    “Adding meat to my product line will hopefully help fill in the gaps during the colder months when ice cream isn’t as popular,” Eick said.
    As she looks to beginning her senior year at ISU, Eick is uncertain of her next steps. She has a goal to put up a creamery to process her own farm’s milk. Presently, she buys ice cream mix from Anderson Erickson Dairy in Des Moines.  
    Starting out with no previous business experience, Eick’s education has come from growing her venture. She is active in ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, where she connects with young people and resources surrounding mentorship, pitch competition and funding.
    While tending to her business, Eick also helps on the Eick family’s White Gold Dairy, milking 50 registered Holsteins, raising steers and farming about 1,000 acres of corn, soybean and hay. She manages the farm’s DHIA program and assists with breeding, milking, field work and other chores.
    The farm is where the Hightail name originated.
    “One of my favorite things to see is when the calves get let out to the pasture for the very first time after the long winter,” Eick said. “You can feel the excitement as they rush out with their tails flying in the air. I wanted to incorporate that happiness into my brand and each and every one of my products.”