Five years ago amid a national wave of dairy closures, Coley Drinkwater convinced her family to put its faith in ice cream. Since her grandparents converted the tobacco fields to cow pastures in the 1950s, Richlands Dairy had made its money from milk. Lacking the land to scale up and refusing to sell out, the family made a big bet on converting into a creamery.
“This land has been in my family since the mid-1700s; before this country even existed we were farming here,” Drinkwater says. “The dairy industry has always been volatile, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to make it as a medium-size dairy. We had been losing money for over a year and it got to the point where we had to figure out something else.”
Thanks to the success of Richlands’ agri-tourism business offering outings to families and school groups, Drinkwater was convinced it wouldn’t take much to turn the farm’s existing fans into ice cream customers. After looking into the costs of opening a creamery and enrolling in Pennsylvania State University’s famous Ice Cream Short Course, the decision was made to expand the business beyond the dairy.
“We wanted our kids to grow up on a farm, to learn the value of hard work and to be able to spend more time with their grandparents,” Drinkwater explains. “My brother and I grew up making ice cream with our dairy’s milk in a hand churner with ice and rock salt. Making ice cream together was a reason to gather, and I want folks to be able to come here and have that experience with us.”
When the creamery first opened in 2019, Drinkwater developed all of Richlands’ base recipes. As business began to boom, the family put out a call for help from the community and found a local woman with a love of cooking and baking whose culinary insight has since translated into a full list of creative flavors.
“This spring we have a lot of exciting flavors we’re planning to release including hazelnut biscotti latte and chocolate fudge brownie,” Drinkwater says. “We’re revamping our chocolate peanut butter cup flavor to add in pretzels for an extra crunch. Last year we made a lemon cream that was well-received and a blueberry cheesecake flavor we plan to bring back in late spring or early this summer. If we’re going to make ice cream, I want us to make the best ice cream.”
Those who make an hourlong journey to Richlands Dairy can expect much more than just milk products, however.
“We wanted the creamery to be a destination – a place you could come with family and friends to indulge in farm-fresh foods,” Drinkwater says. “We also offer made-from-scratch barbecue, homemade chicken salad and hot dogs because my dad insisted. We’re trying to cater to families or folks coming on a date night.”
Beyond locally sourcing as many ingredients as they can, Richlands also aims to help surrounding businesses by stocking its small retail store with neighbors’ wares like goat milk soaps and candles, jams and granola. “One of our goals at the creamery was to carry other local products,” Drinkwater says. “We know what it is to struggle, so we want to help other small businesses market their products as well.”
Folks unable to visit the creamery have a variety of opportunities to find Richlands’ fine ice cream flavors around Richmond. Wonder City Bakery in Hopewell sells scoops and several Food Lions in Chesterfield and the Tri-Cities stock their products. Two nonprofit online farmers markets – Lulu’s Local Food and Fall Line Farms – allow for online orders of Richlands ice cream you can pick up at drop sites near you. Once wholesaling of pints kicks off in April, Drinkwater expects the list of physical locations offering their ice cream to multiply.
Although the pandemic has impacted Richlands’ growth, the future once again feels promising.
“The creamery gave my family hope that we can make it in the dairy industry and a chance to improve our quality of life,” Drinkwater says. “What really makes us feel successful is when people tell us, ‘you’re my dairy.’ That’s when we know we’ve earned their trust and their business.”
Richlands Dairy and Creamery is currently open Fridays through Sundays 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Hours will be increasing in April, so check richlandsdairyfarm.com for details.