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Producing Future Agriculture Business Owners - with a Side of Vanilla Ice Cream

Melinda Litvinas

Melinda Litvinas is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

I am truly honored to be named a Champion of Change for the Future of American Agriculture. Although I grew up in urban Philadelphia, I am a very enthusiastic supporter of any farm market, local foods, and slow food movements, even from a young age.  Growing up, I discovered the importance of food not only as a creative outlet but as a field that is ever changing with new challenges every day - especially the challenge of how to feed our population while conserving our natural resources. 

As I finished college at Syracuse University, my two main career goals evolved: to operate a successful business and to leave my mark in the food world in positive and influential way. I worked many positions in the food service and culinary management field until I discovered the UDairy Creamery Manager's position in 2010. I knew if I was hired, not only could I fill the University of Delaware's needs for an operations manager but also fulfill my personal goals. As a former food science teaching assistant, I also I found the possibility of teaching students again to be most appealing.

The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has had an operating dairy farm for decades prior to the development of the UDairy Creamery. In 2008, a group of four students and one professor wrote and proposed a business plan to open a creamery in order to help subsidize the costs incurred by operating a research dairy farm. The need to make ends meet in the dairy industry has been an ever-growing issue – and many dairy farmers turn to value-added products, like cheese or dairy, to help diversify their income streams.  We received an internal grant from the University called a Unidel Grant, in 2009 for half the cost of the Creamery. The remainder was funded by private donations. I was hired in late 2010 and we opened 6 months later in April of 2011.

In June of 2013, I worked with student interns to partner with the Horn Program for Entrepreneurship within the University’s Lerner School of Business to become the first University with an ice cream truck.  The “Moo Mobile” was purchased not only to serve other parts of campus and events, but as a teaching tool for Agriculture and Entrepreneurship students to run a “business for a day.”  So far, we have been involved in three courses and several high school outreach programs within Delaware.

The last three years have been a whirlwind of ice cream production, growing store sales, and hundreds of events in which we have been able to share our sustainable story with the University and outside communities. As a non-profit business, all proceeds from ice cream sales go directly to supporting the dairy farm and its teaching programs. I could pride myself in the amount of ice cream we produce or probably the world record amount of homemade waffle cones we have sold or how successful the Creamery has become while I was the manager for three years. It is, however, not what I feel most proud of.

Since 2010, I have had the honor to teach, mentor and work very hard with 24 student interns and over 95 student employees. These students applied to the Creamery not just for an ice cream job but to gain hands on experience in the agriculture and entrepreneurship fields. My students have become food scientists, veterinarians, farmers, small business owners, creamery managers and creamery owners.

I am currently working on plans to start a cheese manufacturing component to the UDairy Creamery, which will become the basis of a new pilot plant. I do hope to expand the Creamery into a full dairy pasteurization plant with an extensive product line. The food science industry is on a steady incline as our enrollment of food science students continues to grow. As the Creamery expands, the hands on experience in the areas in dairy, food, and animal science also expand. I pride myself in producing workforce-ready graduates that will continue to battle and solve the challenges of the food industry today. The students are the real product of the Creamery.

Melinda Litvinas is the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery Manager within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources providing training, teaching and mentoring in entrepreneurship and agribusiness management to University students and community members.