A Dairy Delight

Rennie's Dairy Bar offers organic ice cream

Often the genuine article arrives in layers: one good idea wedded to another, wrapped in another, joined by still another. Each has its own qualities and benefits, but it’s the synergy that really pushes the envelope. The development of the food service component of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID) provided opportunities for layering values and assets of a sustainable food system, and one of the results is organic ice cream, made by the Babcock Dairy and sold at Rennie’s Dairy Bar inside WID.

Carl Korz, dining services director for the Wisconsin Union, was one of the keys to making it happen: “We decided to offer organic ice cream from Babcock because we felt that the campus was ready for this option,” says Korz. “Given all the work on local and organic food production that is done here at the UW, it seemed only fitting that we should pilot an organic dairy bar. We felt it would be used not only as an opportunity to showcase some of Babcock’s finest, but also to promote a conversation about organic dairy production.”

Korz says the decision to offer organic was less remarkable than the people who worked toward making organic Babcock ice cream a reality. “Molly Jahn, professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bill Klein, manager of the Babcock Dairy Plant and Organic Valley Co-op were critical in making it a reality.” Another important partner was UW emeritus professor Steve Stevenson, whose work with the national organization Agriculture of the Middle is all about such food chains.

Wisconsin’s Organic Valley Co-op was more than just critical. Bill Klein says that then-CEO Louise Hemstead and national sales manager Douglas Hansen were both enthusiastic and generous. “I worked closely with Organic Valley … and they were very helpful in guiding me through the [organic] certification process. The certifying agency needs a variety of documentation, and once we put all these procedures and documents together we submitted [them]. Then they inspected our operation. After a few corrections and additions we were issued the organic certification acknowledgment.”

“Our organic ice cream is made with all organic ingredients,” says Klein. “The cost of organic ice cream is significantly higher than our standard ice cream due to the higher ingredient cost.”

There are a lot of good ideas at work here, including linking the ultra-modern Institutes to the historic campus tradition of Rennebohm’s drug stores.

“We asked ourselves: what would you get if you took a classic soda fountain concept, applied a modern twist with menu items and design, but used organic and local ingredients to the best degree possible?” says Korz. “It still had to be fun … I wanted kids to say ‘wow,’ but parents to feel that they were still purchasing a high-quality, high-integrity product. We’ll carry three flavors of Babcock organic ice cream: vanilla, chocolate and mixed berry, and then a non-dairy option such as a rotating sorbet. You can then add from a list of rotating toppings; for instance, maple butter granola, dried Door County cherries, crumbled pretzel rods or cracked organic peppermints. Pair those with an organic chocolate fudge sauce, strawberry preserves or an organic hot salty/sweet peanut sauce and you have limitless possibilities for creative sundaes. We will also have fun favorite toppings: organic sandwich cookies and gummy worms, fresh fruit and others. We wanted to have high integrity without coming across as moralizing about organic dairy—this had to be fun, first and foremost.”

But it’s so much more than fun. It’s using the strategy of connecting farmers to the opportunity of markets for high-quality food products to address the problem of disappearing midsize farms and food businesses. It’s what happens when people say “yes.”

And we, lucky Madisonians, are the beneficiaries. Rennie’s Dairy Bar opens May 17.

Nancy Christy is a partner in Christy & Craig Associates. Christy & Craig served as consultants to WARF in envisioning the food system for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to genuinearticles@madisonmagazine.com.

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