ESSAY- Yumm: All-local ice cream worth some screams

"You had me at 'ice cream.'" 

My husband was trying to talk me into a detour on our way from Charlottesville to Roanoke last week, saying there's a new ice cream joint, Perfect Flavor, right on the main drag in Waynesboro, and that the owners are part of the "locavore" movement. So nearly every ingredient they use is produced within a hundred miles of their shop, and blahdy blah blah.

All right, already. All he had to say was "Let's stop for ice cream."

I love the stuff, anyway, but having awoken in the grip of a cold virus that morning, I was losing my voice and knew that ice cream– whether from China or my own churn– would give me intense pleasure. Bring it on.

Over spoonfuls of vanilla and bittersweet chocolate gelato (the ecstasy of ice cream on a sore throat is almost worth having the sore throat in the first place), I listened as co-owner Lynsie Watkins told us about the amazing challenges– and expense– involved in setting up and running an ice-creamery when you're committed to using locally grown and produced ingredients whenever possible. 

I nodded politely, thinking: My God, this stuff is good! I don't care where it comes from.

What with all the dollars flowing to China nowadays, I like that somebody cares about keeping money in the local economy. And, when you think about it, it only makes sense to ensure that we support farms and food-production locally. Imagine the price of gasoline triple what it is now or (God forbid) a scarcity of fuel. What would save us from famine? Local self-reliance, that's what.

Plus, when farmers can't make a living by farming, there's every economic reason (barring government intrusion) for them to sell their land to developers.  

You want numbers? According to the 2000 Vermont Job Gap Study (and bear in mind that Virginia's population is 12 times Vermont's) if they managed to substitute a mere 10 percent of imported foodstuffs with Vermont-produced food, the result would be $376 million in additional economic output, which would include 3,616 new jobs for Vermonters yielding $69 million in personal income.  

Slap a zero on those figures for a ballpark estimate of what Virginia could come up with if we bought into the "locavore" philosophy with a mere 10 percent reduction of our imported food products.

Keep the local farmers in business, and keep the landscape rural. So, I was all on board with this stuff– and then, Lynsie showed us around. 

Behind a glass wall, I saw a machine that looked an awful lot like my grandmother's washing machine. It was a 15 gallon-capacity milk pasteurizer. Unlike Nana's washer, this machine costs $17,000. 

I make ice cream every now and again, and I just pick up some pasteurized milk. Why doesn't she do that? (Think about it: $17,000!)

Lynsie said you cannot buy pasteurized milk produced by a Central Virginia herd. We've got the cows, all right, but here's how it works: a tanker truck goes around to all the farms and collects the raw milk. That milk is combined with milk that's produced up and down the East coast, and pasteurized in enormous batches.  

So, when you drink Shenandoah's Pride milk, you're supporting dairy farms in an area that extends way beyond "local." And that company is owned by Texas-based Dean Foods, the largest producer and distributor of dairy products in the United States.

The only way Lynsie and her partner, Colin Steele, can stick to their guns and buy dairy products locally is to get raw milk from Holsinger Dairy Farm in the Shenandoah Valley and pasteurize it themselves in the machine that's worth more than my car.

She's telling me this and I'm thinking Lynsie, Lynsie, why are you doing this? Why would these two people make life so difficult for themselves? After all, would their ice cream taste so different if they bought milk from Florida cows and Georgia cows, rather than from the herd in the Shenandoah Valley?  

That's when it struck me: this is about principles. Imagine that! Principles over profit.

According to their philosophy, the world would be a better place– Central Virginia would be a better place– if we all made an effort to get most of our food from local sources.  

This conviction translates into some hefty expenses for the business owner (that $17,000 pasteurizer is just one example). The big question for Perfect Flavor is whether a business model based on integrity and principles can turn a profit. 

At about a dollar per ounce of ice cream, my guess would be that Perfect Flavor's prices would not be palatable to everyone who stops in. After all, these entrepreneurs are swimming upstream against a powerful global current.  

There are two kinds of customers who will likely patronize this new ice cream shop: "locavores" with the same philosophy of consuming locally produced food, and people who appreciate really, really good ice cream.