Our special package of stories focusing on agriculture begins with Woodside Farm, which has been has been in the Mitchell family for over 200 years, but the family has also built a successful ice cream business using the cream from their cows.
Standing in the ice cream production room at Woodside Farm and Creamery in Hockessin, co-owner Janet Mitchell has a hard time with the rumors she’s heard recently.
“I bumped into someone who said, ‘My wife won’t let me eat there anymore. She said you guys got too big and you don’t make your own ice cream anymore,’” she said with a chuckle. “I’d like to show them this place.”
Not only has Woodside been making their own ice cream for the last 16 years, the farmstead the business is built around has been in the Mitchell family for over 200 years.
Now, Woodside is one of only four working dairy farms in New Castle County, and the only one currently with its own creamery onsite.
The farm remained active over the ensuing years, moving from regular farm crops to a dairy herd and back again, until the spring of 1996 when the cows came back to Woodside for good.
Two years later, they opened their locally renowned ice cream parlor; since then, Janet and her husband, Jim Mitchell, have watched their business grow beyond their expectations.
“I always wanted to farm, and I had some delusion that I could make a living dairy farming,” Jim said. “Found out that wasn’t working out, so we started looking into ice cream.”
Having spent much of his life working on the farm, Jim now found himself at Penn State, taking a two-week course that granted him a certificate to produce ice cream.
The same course also gave him certification as a nutrient handler, which he quipped is “a license to spread manure.”
Since opening the creamery in 1998, the Mitchells have taken innovative steps to reduce their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment as much as is possible for a working farm, where state and federal restrictions have already made the approach to farming more “scientific,” in Jim’s words.
In 2009, they installed 570 solar panels throughout their property, which now accounts for 85 percent of their energy intake, according to Janet.
They also use bioplastic containers made of dextrose – or corn, in its natural form – that are biodegradable and also end up in the composting pile.
Their ice cream is also manufactured directly into cardboard boxes instead of plastic tubs that need to be washed afterwards, reducing the amount of water they use. The boxes themselves are also biodegradable.
They also address the ever-present fly problem that comes with any farm by importing “fly predators,” greatly reducing the number of flies without the use of pesticides.
Having worked with family for so long, Janet said the hardest thing for her was to hire outside employees for their ice cream facility.
It’s also difficult for them to think about handing the reins over to what would be the eighth generation of their family to run the farm – although their niece Rebecca is chomping at the proverbial bit.
“I would love to come here,” Rebecca said, adding that even though she’s mostly handled office and creamery duties, she’d be willing to help milk cows and spread manure.
She and her brother, Michael, have been spending summers there for years, coming up from Frederick, Md., working the farm for the season, and – hopefully – preparing to run it themselves one day.
“No pressure, though,” Jim laughed.
Beyond their family legacy, the Mitchells are also concerned about the reputation they’ve carefully built in the Hockessin area.
“The biggest compliment we get, in my opinion, is when people say it’s good for the community,” Jim said. “And that’s what we were hoping to do.”