September 23, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
And then there was one
Dairy farming in Virginia
Stanleys take careful steps toward big goals
ASHLAND, Va. — Missy Stanley said being a dairy farmer’s wife is not for the faint-hearted, but she is proud of what her husband has achieved and glad to have been part of it.
“I am a Kentucky beef and tobacco farmer’s granddaughter, so farming wasn’t completely new to me, but dairy definitely was,” Stanley said.
When Stanley married her husband, Joel, and moved to the farm he owns with his dad and brother, she grew a respect for the dairy farming life.
“I’ve watched my husband work his way up, and I’ve seen the dairyman he’s become, how many improvements he’s made to cow health and production — and he really enjoys it,” Stanley said. “We take pride that we’re producing a wholesome product for the population.”
This summer, Stanley and her husband began producing ice cream that they make under a new business venture called Farmview Creamery and sell at locations in the area from their ice cream trailer.
The Stanley farm is the last remaining dairy farm in Hanover County. Joel is the fourth generation there. The farm’s location, Stanley said, is in a suburban area where people are usually not well-informed about agriculture.
“Richmond has spread in all directions, and our county has grown like crazy,” Stanley said. “There are probably only three dairies left within about a 30-mile radius.”
Joel and his father milk 160 Holsteins in a double-8 herringbone parlor. With 250 acres they own and close to 750 acres they rent, the Stanleys grow mostly feed for their herd but also sell soybeans, hay, barley and corn. In the last three years, they have started breeding lower-producing cows with beef semen and are now up to 30 head of beef cattle.
Stanley helps her husband and father-in-law when needed, but she mostly serves as bookkeeper and also has a full-time job at a nearby college. Her daughter and her nephew, the son of Joel’s brother who is a silent partner in the farm, help as well. The farm also employees four people.
Milk from the farm is picked up once a day by Dairy Farmers of America and brought to Newport News, one of five Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative processing locations.
Stanley and her husband began thinking about how to bring awareness to the community while also diversifying their farming operation.
“We’ve had this dream for years to sell ice cream or bottled milk,” Stanley said. … “We thought this would be a way for us to connect with (consumers). Also, we thought this might be something that the next generation might be more interested in doing than running the traditional dairy.”
That is how Farmview Creamery was born.
“In 2018, we started visiting other on-farm processors and ultimately decided we weren’t quite ready to make the investment to process our own milk,” Stanley said. “We thought (making and selling ice cream) would be a good first step to make sure that it had demand in the community and that it was something we wanted to do.”
Stanley said changes are always in careful increments. About a year ago, they bought a trailer and retrofitted it with an ice cream freezer. A concrete room in their old tiestall barn was refurbished into a small ice cream processing plant that has since been given the stamp of approval by the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
“It’s been a big learning experience for me, not really having any experience (prior) in the food service industry,” Stanley said. “I was figuring out the procurement side of it and making ice cream at night after (working all day) at my job.”
Stanley started practicing with ice cream mixes and her own flavoring combinations. She invited in friends and family for taste testing.
“We worked on vanilla for a long time,” Stanley said. “I never would have thought that vanilla is that hard to nail down. We had seven tries with it before we were happy with the vanilla.”
In July, the Stanleys received the necessary permits to open their business.
It has now been a little over two months since the Stanleys have been ice cream vendors, and so far, it is going well.
“The response from the community has been huge,” Stanley said. … “The local businesses have welcomed us. I get calls and emails regularly saying, ‘Come and park in our parking lot,’ so it’s been awesome.”
The Stanleys also have done private events and have gone to other neighboring communities, but Ashland is their main market.
“We go out on Friday night or Saturday and sell ice cream,” Stanley said. “The lines have been long, and we usually sell out in three or four hours.”
Although Farmview Creamery only just opened, the preparations through prior taste testing allowed the business to launch with 20 flavors.
Besides the staples of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, Farmview Creamery offers more complex flavors as well.
“Mint chocolate chip is way more popular than I ever realized it was because I don’t like it myself, but it’s huge,” Stanley said. “That, along with Cow Tracks (which has) crumbled peanut butter cups and swirls of fudge, and then peach are our three most popular flavors.”
The Stanleys’ life together is a whirlwind of activity, but they may soon add more. Currently, they are purchasing the ice cream mixes for their creamery, but they would like to use their own milk for the ice cream and for the other part of their dream — bottling milk.
They have procured equipment from a dairy in North Carolina that went out of business. The Stanleys also received a grant from the Southeast Dairy Business Innovations Initiative program to have a feasibility study done.
The results concluded that adding a processing facility on the farm would indeed be feasible. Now, the Stanleys must decide whether or not to make such a large investment.
“Dairy is tough right now; the (milk) price is so low,” Stanley said. “It’s a big pill to swallow to make a big investment with those kinds of margins.”
For now, Stanley and her husband are concentrating on making ice cream and realizing one of their main objectives — community outreach — by offering customers to visit their farm.
“Part of what we’re doing with the ice cream is farm tours that I do once a month,” Stanley said. “That’s one of my favorite parts, just sharing and answering questions that people have about milk and dairy, which was what one of our goals was — to promote agriculture and the dairy industry. Everyone loves ice cream, so it’s an easy in.”
Stanley said she hopes their efforts also keep their farm viable.
“It’s part of (Joel’s) heritage,” Stanley said. “It’s a struggle every day, and we talk a lot about if it’s worth it — if it is a struggle we want to pass on to the next generation — but we just take it one day at a time.”