See Reporter Will Flannigan’s blog post about how ice cream is made here.
WOOSTER, Ohio — A lot of dairy farmers dream about bottling and selling their own milk and dairy products off the farm.
A few give it a try. A few less are successful.
Hartzler Family Dairy in Wayne County, Ohio, is one of the successes. The family-owned and family-run company opened its retail milk and ice cream store just north of Wooster in 1996.
Today, they produce nearly 50 flavors of ice cream and sell their milk in more than 140 retail stores. And they continue to grow.
General manager John Merriman said sales this year will top $2 million. Sales over the past two years have increased 60 percent.
Last year the company installed nearly 1,000 square feet of additional freezer space, to help meet the demand. And they’re planning to lease an additional delivery truck this fall.
But Merriman said they’re still turning customers down, often because they’re too far away.
It’s that kind of forward thinking that helped the farm’s proprietor, Harold Hartzler, turn an ordinary dairy into a value-added icon.
He and his wife, Patricia, farmed in Wayne County since 1952, until his death in May of 2011, at age 85.
During that time, he championed the idea of natural systems and avoided the use of pesticides and herbicides. In 1964, he gave them up completely.
“They (Hartzlers) were organic before organic was a big thing,” said Dan Steiner, the husband of Harold’s youngest child, Janis (Hartzler) Steiner.
The family often quotes a statement Harold made when comparing healthy soil to a living human being.
“The life in the soil is much like the life in a human being. It depends on air, water and sunshine. It doesn’t matter whether you are growing a tree, cabbages or corn, they all have to have these three things.”
Merriman said Hartzler farmed “the way nature intended things to be grown … It costs a lot more to farm that way but once you get your soil good then it takes care of itself.”
The current Hartzler Dairy consists of about 200 head of milk cows and 500-600 acres of land. But it’s not enough to supply all the demand, so the company recently began buying milk from a nearby dairy that uses the same farming practices as the Hartzlers.
Milk is trucked from the farms to the store on weekdays by Jerry Hartzler, one of Harold’s sons.
The milk not only is local — but is produced in a way that preserves the most flavor and nutrition. The Hartzlers use low temperature pasteurization, by slowly heating the milk to 145 degrees. This preserves beneficial enzymes and bacteria, and can allow lactose intolerant people to drink milk.
Milk is sold in refundable glass bottles and comes in white, chocolate and strawberry.
“We swear by Hartzler’s milk,” said Carolyn Eyster, co-owner of Trinity Farms Market in Bellville. “People come in specifically to buy the milk.”
She figures her store sells about 2,500-3,000 bottles per year, and her own family also drinks Hartzler milk, especially the chocolate milk.
In the summer, ice cream is the product of choice. The most popular flavor is usually Heifer Trails — which includes Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, chocolate chips and peanut butter swirl.
Many of the flavors are named after a farm-related topic, like Chicken Feed, Hot Mudd, Cowboy Crunch and Farm House. Some are only offered on a seasonal basis, and every customer has his or her own preference.
The common theme is — people like it, and they keep coming back for more.
“We have good soil, good cows and good milk, and that all turns into some really good ice cream.” Merriman said.
The Hartzlers employ eight full-time workers and 14-16 part-timers during the summer — when ice cream sales are at their peak.