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Delaware beachgoers can ‘smell the manure and see a cow give birth,’ thanks to nearby Hopkins Farm Creamery

Progressive Dairyman Writer Audrey Schmitz Published on 03 August 2016
Hopkins Farm Creamery

From the top of the Hopkins Farm Creamery’s 80-foot tall silo, one can see the Lewes Beach coastline. Five miles from the beach and a 10-minute drive by car, tourists and beachgoers stop at the popular ice cream shop after a hot day in the sand and swim on the coast.

Walter “Burli” Hopkins, a fourth-generation dairy farmer of Green Acres Farm Inc., estimates about 100,000 travelers visit the 585-Holstien-cow dairy and creamery a year and says July and August are his busiest times of the year.

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“On any weekend in the summer, expect a 40-minute wait just to order and probably another 30-minute wait just to get your order,” Hopkins says. “So even though we close at 11 p.m., we will probably be open past midnight.”

Because of how busy the beach gets in the summer, Hopkins has seen Route 9 backed up 5 miles from the beach all the way to his farm. To deal with all the traffic just through the creamery, they have had to change some of their management practices so the dairy farm and creamery did not interfere with each other.

“We sort of set up the layout of the farm so that traffic from the creamery wouldn’t affect the farm other than the milk truck driver who has to get through here,” Hopkins explains. “Everything else sort of happens at the back of the farm from an equipment, feeding and manure standpoint.”

According to Hopkins, the creamery sits in the old milk house his grandfather originally built and where he started milking cows. This picturesque building strategically sits off to one corner of the farm, so when the public visits the creamery, they also have access to the calves, calving pens, freestalls and milking parlor.

Hopkins believes the ice cream isn’t what makes Hopkins Farm Creamery so successful, but rather how the dairy farm and its cows are a fairly inexpensive outing for families and tourists to visit.

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“The creamery has that whole farm experience where you smell manure and you can see a cow give birth, which is always a big deal for a lot of people,” Hopkins says. “If I had opened an ice cream shop 2 miles down the road, it wouldn’t have been successful at all. There really is a symbiotic relationship between the dairy farm and the creamery.”

One big challenge Hopkins says they still face today is the disconnect the public has from the farm and how social media can be an avenue for people to complain about agriculture practices.

“For instance, we had a cow give birth here, and it was a perfect calving. My herd manager was there and her assistant was there. The best, most qualified people were there. We helped the cow a little bit, and it was a beautiful thing,” Hopkins explained. “Somebody recorded the calving and put it on a Facebook post in a very positive way, but then there were all these negative comments afterwards.”

The negative comments are difficult for him to deal with, and he has since learned to hire people to manage the dairy and creamery’s social media accounts.

silo with ice cream painted on it

Another challenge with dairying so close to the beach is there are no options for him to expand his operation. He currently farms 1,000 acres of land and is unable to grow any larger.

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“Everything around us for the most part has been developed,” Hopkins says. “We are fortunate our land is contiguous so we can still produce all the feed we need and disperse nutrients on the dirt from the farm.”

Because of the farm location near the beach, his family had been offered a lot of money for their land. However, Hopkins, his father and even his grandfather were not willing to give up the dairy. In order to keep the dairy going, they took the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach and started brainstorming ideas for the farm.

While brainstorming, they came up with the idea to open an on-farm creamery. After attending several ice cream seminars, Hopkins opened the creamery in 2008. The main goal of operating the on-farm creamery was to create a separate entity that could “stand on its own two feet” with its own cash flow and bank account.

“We didn’t want a business that’s going to be a crutch for our dairy. We want our dairy to support itself and the creamery to support itself. That was our goal from day one,” Hopkins says.

This goal has been achieved every year since the creamery has opened.

“Our production goals have far exceeded what we thought,” Hopkins says. “It was amazing how quickly the public took to us.”

Hopkins Dairy is the largest dairy farm in the state of Delaware and ships its milk to Land O’ Lakes for pasteurization, processing, packaging and distribution. The Hopkins Farm Creamery buys an ice cream mix from Cloverland Green Spring that is then processed on-farm to offer more than 25 unique flavors. The ice cream is sold in waffle cones, sundaes, banana splits, milk shakes, malts, pies and cakes. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit the Hopkins Farm Creamery website.  PD

Audrey Schmitz is a 2016 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

PHOTO 1: In Green Acres Farm's old milk house, the Hopkins Farm Creamery offers a variety of ice cream flavors to visitors year round.

PHOTO 2: Driving down Route 9 it's hard for Lewes beachgoers to miss the big silo with giant ice cream cones painted on it. Photos provided by Rodney Wilson Jr.

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