Kentucky Farmer Provides Sweet Treat Education through Ice Cream Business

In a 2011 episode of the FX series Justified, the main character, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, has a hankering for ice cream that is satisfied when he goes into a mini mart and buys a pint of Chaney’s ice cream.

Chaney’s isn’t a fictional, made-for-TV ice cream company. It is owned by Kentucky dairy farmers Debra and Carl Chaney, who in 2000 decided to bring added value to their farm by making and selling ice cream. Back then, Carl enrolled in a Penn State University short course called “Cow to Cone” to learn the ins and outs of ice cream production.

A business plan followed, and the couple added the necessary machinery to their farm in Bowling Green. By 2003, Chaney’s Dairy Barn was making 3,500 gallons of farm-fresh ice cream – and has been on a steady rise ever since. Last year, output hit 19,000 gallons, and production this year is 25 percent ahead of the 2013 pace.

“If you had told me this was possible 10 years ago I would have told you that you were absolutely crazy,” Carl said.

Carl’s father started the dairy in 1940 with two Jersey cows. Today, the farm has about 60 Jerseys that produce milk for bottling purposes for a Kentucky processing plant. The Chaneys purchase a locally sourced ice cream mix (milk, sugar and cream) and produce all 32 flavors at the farm. Local growers provide fresh strawberries, peaches, blackberries and pecans. The farm also makes seasonal offerings, such as pumpkin ice cream in the fall.

Most of the ice cream is sold at the farm. But the Chaneys now work with a distributor who has gotten their products into some Kentucky hotels and restaurants.

The family also found success creating signature flavors. Administrators from nearby Western Kentucky University were in for a scoop one day when the Chaneys suggested creating a signature flavor for the school. White chocolate ice cream mixed with red velvet cake, chocolate flakes and a fudge ribbon was a perfect match for the school’s colors of red and white.

It just needed a name, so the university president ordered 20 tubs to spark the students’ taste buds and creativity. “Big Red Rumble” is now a regular offering at the university.

The Chaneys are amazed at how much their ice cream has helped build a connection with the community and to their farm. They routinely conduct tours and figure more than 8,000 students will visit the dairy this year. They also started “ice cream and a movie” night where families can bring lawn chairs and blankets to watch a free movie shown on the side of the ice cream shop. Each movie is preceded by a video about the farm and how ice cream is made.

“The average person is three generations or more removed from the farm,” Chaney said. “Our business allows us to spread the message of what we do and why it’s important. We can reach kids at an early age. Now they come and they see a cow, they pet a baby calf and they have a different outlook.

“When we put a milker on a cow and they see the milk come through the hose, the kids get it. They know milk comes from a grocery store but, by gosh, it first comes from a cow and without that cow, we wouldn’t have a lot of things like ice cream. That’s a very important part of what we do.”