Woodside Farm has been owned by the Mitchell family for more than 200 years and the family was honored for their business's longevity and innovation when they receieved the Family Owned Business of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration's Delaware office.
The phrase “family-owned business” really means something at Woodside Farm Creamery; the Mitchells have owned the Hockessin dairy farm since 1796.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re still here, because nobody wants to say ‘stop,’” said Jim Mitchell, 47, a seventh-generation dairy farmer. In fact, the creamery -- a summertime "must do" for local families -- opened in 1998 as a way to keep the family business afloat, he said.
That adaptability along with the farm’s staying power helped the Mitchells to win this year’s Family Owned Business of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Delaware office.
“They reinvented themselves to meet the market demands when they added the creamery,” Jayne Armstrong, district director. “It was just an absolutely brilliant move that really brought the family farm into the 21st century.”
The 75-acre property, originally a 1,000-acre farm, has been a dairy farm for nearly two centuries, Mitchell said. The family continued to sell milk wholesale until a decade ago, when it became impossible to compete with larger farmers.
Looking for a new revenue stream, Mitchell took an ice cream making course at Pennylvania State University and began turning the milk from the farm’s coffee-colored Jersey cows into frozen, hand-dipped gold.
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Woodside Farm Creamery
1310 Little Baltimore Rd., Hockessin
The creamery sends its milk to a dairy that combines it with sugar and emulsifiers to make a vanilla or chocolate ice cream base, he explained. Creamery employees then mix the base with add-ons like chocolate chips or raspberry sorbet in two ice cream machines and freeze the finished product in four-gallon batches.
Ice cream making came easily for Mitchell. The challenge was opening the doors of his family business to outside employees, including 30 strong-armed teenagers who dip ice cream all summer.
“It had always been my father and I working together,” he said.
But the business is still a family affair. Mitchell’s father, Joe, milks the cows twice a day and grows chrysanthemums to sell each fall; Mitchell’s wife, Janet, manages the ice cream stand; and Mitchell’s sister, Debbie, raises sheep on the farm, weaving the wool into artwork.
But ice cream is still the heart of the business.
Woodside has expanded from its original 20 flavors to 35, Mitchell said. The company’s niche is its ability to produce specialty ice cream in small batches, he said, like the infamous mushroom ice cream dished up annually at Kennett Square’s Mushroom Festival and Canal Digger, a flavor he invented for the Bayard House Restaurant in Chesapeake City, Md.
“They wanted something that looked like it had been dredged out of the bottom of the canal, so it’s just full of all that gooey, soupy stuff,” he said, like caramel and butterscotch.
For many who line up each summer for a scoop or two, it’s the extra creaminess of the ice cream that’s the real draw, he said. And customers have the cows to thank for that.
Milk from Jersey cows has the highest butter fat content of any dairy cow he said, which leads to creamier ice cream. Customers also enjoy watching the pasture-fed cows, he said, who can often be seen munching on grass near the ice cream stand.
Mitchell enjoys watching the customers, who can often be seen munching on ice cream cones in the shadow of his family’s farm house.
“I just think it’s a fun business,” he said. “People are usually out here to enjoy themselves and they’re getting a treat.”