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Family farmers turn to gelato to find a future in dairy

As farms across Wisconsin cope with rising production costs and declining milk prices, many have had to look for other options to keep their dairy operations afloat.

That includes the farm Amber McComish and her husband Joe are preparing to take over from his parents.

“We want to keep doing this,” she said. “We love what we do. We want to continue to farm.”

Unfortunately, McComish said passion hasn’t been enough, like many farms, they’ve had to get creative to meet their bottom line.

“Diversifying I think is really the only way that we can stay in business,” she said.

For years, McComish and her husband have been churning up ideas. At first they wanted to start their own cheesemaking business but McComish said they found the overhead was too great and the market was already so saturated in Wisconsin.

That’s when McComish said her friend suggested gelato.

“The more I looked into it, the more I liked it,” she said. “It’s something new with dairy. It’s a fun treat.”

Still, the lifelong farmers said there was a learning curve.

“First off, what was gelato?” Joe said he asked when his wife brought up the topic. “I had no idea.”

The treat is like ice cream, only gelato relies more on milk, something McComish said attracted her to the product.

“The biggest reason we chose gelato is because it’s our milk,” she said. There’s not added cream, there’s no added stuff, we won’t add any other stuff besides our milk and whatever ingredients we have in it.”

McComish said she started experimenting with gelato making in January and started seeing success selling her batches in June.

“Once they do try it every single person I’ve talked to has liked it,” she said.

When she started, McComish was making the product in her kitchen, now that she’s making hundreds of batches a week, she goes out to a center in Platteville to cook it up. Eventually though, she’s hoping to bring the operation back home, purchasing the space for her own gelato storage and manufacturing.

“This’ll be the trailer that when it’s finished will be our small on-farm dairy plant,” she said showing it off.

McComish said it’s an investment in the product’s future and her family’s.

“This is kind of our project, something my husband that I want to do for our family and something that’s going to make our family more sustainable here on the farm,” she said.

So far, she’s been able to sell it in farmers markets in Darlington and Mineral Point and a local deli serves it as dessert. As the business grows, she’s hoping her cow-to-cone operation will keep her farm operating for generations to come.


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