Trying to figure a way to keep their dairy business afloat, Jeffrey and Elizabeth Turner bumped heads about how best to peddle their product directly to the public. The debate was over whether it be milk or ice cream.
Milking their idea to the max, they decided to do both. Thus, Shop Springs Creamery was born Nov. 15, 2019, almost directly across the road from Turner Dairy, which Jeffrey and his brother, Justin, started in December 2015.
Immediately, the couple began selling ice cream. This past December, they began offering milk.
The business has proven udderly successful.
“The whole creamery idea was Jeffrey’s. Jeffrey just wanted to do milk. The ice cream was something I wanted to do,” said Elizabeth. “I knew we could do it but didn’t expect it to happen so fast.”
Recalled Jeffrey, “My brother and I wanted to remain in the dairy business. Wilson County is growing at such a rapid pace. Farmland is more expensive. With growing feed and other things in a commercial setting, it is really hard to handle. My idea was to take advantage of what’s happening, and I thought we should change the direction of our operation. So we decided to go directly to the consumer with our milk.”
Said Elizabeth, “I was sold on the idea but worried it was such a large investment for equipment. When I suggested ice cream, Jeffrey wasn’t sold on that idea at first. We went to other creameries that were successful, and they told us this (selling ice cream) would help us get people in our place.”
When the couple hit their first lick as a walk-in dairy bar, customers came through the door like gangbusters. Then two-and-a-half months later, COVID-19 struck. The Turners made a slight adjustment in their operation and continued to scoop in business.
“We didn’t close. We were very fortunate that we had put windows on the end of our building,” said Elizabeth. “I told Jeffrey we should do a drive-thru. We didn’t really plan to have that starting out. So we closed the inside and had a drive-thru and did not open the inside again until the end of December.
“About 90 percent of our business is drive-thru now. I think it helped us because people didn’t have much to do but could come get ice cream. And families don’t have to take children out of their car seats.”
One other adjustment the couple made was adding a gravel driveway around the building. The loop can hold 45 cars before traffic begins lining up on Highway 70.
Elizabeth handles payroll, bookkeeping, ordering and inventory and concocts the ice cream flavors. Jeffrey works the milk processing side of the business.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” Jeffrey said about learning the ropes. “We use an Emery Thompson ice cream batch freezer and make our ice cream in five-gallon batches. The CEO of this company makes a lot of educational videos on how to use the machinery and how to make ice cream. We basically taught ourselves. We ad-libbed until we got something we like, creating all the flavors ourselves. Elizabeth does most of that.”
Time to make the ice cream
The creamery offers 16 varieties of ice cream with the salted caramel and cookie monster flavors being the most popular.
“I enjoy creating the flavors,” said Elizabeth. “The problem is our cabinet only has 16 holes so it only holds 16 flavors, and I’ve got lots of ideas. One of the most popular was our Christmas tree cake ice cream made with a Little Debbie cake. For Christmas I also had candy cane. At Halloween I make Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein flavors. For fall I had pumpkin pie and caramel apple. And for the summer I have Key lime pie. When I take them away people get upset because they want them year round.”
One of the hallmarks of Shop Springs Creamery is that its 22 Jersey milk cows live about a mile-and-a-half down the road. The herd is milked twice a day by the Turners’ friend Matthew Bass, who owns the farm. Each Jersey produces an average of five gallons of milk a day. The creamery makes ice cream every two days and every day in the summer months.
“My brother, Justin, and I own the dairy. Elizabeth and I own the creamery,” explained Jeffrey. “The dairy procures the milk and the creamery processes it.”
In describing the basic steps it takes to make the ice cream, Jeffrey said the milk is first run through a cream separator. After taking the cream off the milk, it is added back to whole milk which increases the cream level to 14 percent.
Then sugar and other dry ingredients are mixed in and the milk is pasteurized. Next the liquid is run through a plate heat exchange where it comes out of the vat at 165 degrees at 10 gallons per minute. It then cools to 37 degrees in the finished product tank.
Finally, it goes into the ice cream machine, which has a paddle, and there it spins and freezes as flavoring is added. The result is similar to soft-serve ice cream, which is put into buckets and then placed into a blast freezer where it cools to minus-40 degrees for 12 hours.
Life on the farm
While the ice cream has been a bona fide hit, the creamery’s farm-fresh milk is making waves as well. It comes in four flavors: strawberry, cookies and cream, chocolate and whole white milk.
“People love the flavored milk, and we sell it to Split Bean on the Lebanon Square, Al’s Foodland, Three Forks Market, Seven Cedars Butcher Block and several place in Rutherford County,” said Elizabeth.
They also sell beef, lamb, pork, goat, eggs and honey, all produced in Wilson County via seven farm families from Watertown and Norene.
The creamery employs 14 part-timers, one a college student and the rest all local high school students, mostly from Watertown High. Recently the Turners hired their first full-time staff member, Jessica Shriver, who is handling business and marketing matters.
The creamery also has a mascot, Laura, a 6-year-old Holstein, who is on their logo.
“She’s a real good producer. She belongs to Elizabeth and her dad. They bought her at sale here in Lebanon at a state Holstein sale,” said Jeffrey. “She’s a little bit ornery like her owner.”
“She is ornery,” chimed in Elizabeth, “but is halter broke and will let you walk her around and lets Evelyn, our daughter, who is two, pet on her.”
Elizabeth, who teaches eighth grade at Carroll-Oakland School, hails from Corunna, Mich., and is a fourth-generation dairy farmer. She and Jeffrey met in 2008 at a Future Farmers of America state leadership conference but did not begin dating until 2014.
Jeffrey works full time with his brother at the dairy where their labors are many. “We row crop about 750 acres. We grow feed for our cattle and milk 100 cows. That milk all goes to Purity,” he said.
As for the ice cream dream team’s experience of running the creamery for 17 months, Elizabeth said, “I really enjoy working in the store and watching our product go full circle and being able to hand it to our customers and knowing what’s in it and that it’s a safe product for our community, and I like building relationships with customers.”
Jeff added that the best part for him was “taking it from start to finish. We grow the feed that we feed the cattle. It’s pretty satisfying to see the milk from our dairy in a jug with our own label and being able to give it to our customers.”