In the ag community, I have gotten used to seeing what month it is. There is usually a food group that gets some extra notice in a given month. It’s no surprise with the heat of July, that ice cream is due a celebration this month. I even stocked up before July hit so I’d be sure to be able to celebrate.
Last summer I did a series of food polls and the poll on ice cream really got people excited. I did that during National Dairy Month and found out a lot of folks enjoyed brands of ice cream I was unfamiliar with. And some of the brands I love here in Memphis, well, I had to explain a bit to people in another area. But before I even opened a pint of homemade vanilla, news broke that Yarnell’s Ice Cream, a Mid-South regional company, would be closing its door. In fact, they closed the day before National Ice Cream Month started. I saw the TV report here in Memphis but I think the KATV team out of Little Rock had the inside track. See Yarnell’s has been headquartered in the smalltown of Searcy, Arkansas since it began in the depression. There is something unique about it because it served a small geography.
The company began with Ray Yarnell – Christina Yarnell’s great-grandfather – and his wife and son counting themselves among the 13 employees that ran operations and made deliveries in four trucks. Its first trucks were refrigerated with ice and salt, and the company’s first electrically refrigerated truck was purchased in 1938.
Most of the ice cream first produced by Yarnell’s was sold to drug stores that sold ice cream soda or cream sandwiches.
“Ceasing operations is heartbreaking because we have prided ourselves on keeping our roots in Arkansas, particularly Searcy,” Christina Yarnell said.
The company even touted its local roots with its Arkansas-centric flavors. They included University of Arkansas Razorback themed offerings such as “Woo Pig Chewy” and “Hog Wild for Cookie Dough.” In 2005, the company named its mint-chip ice cream for then-Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Hucka, Hucka Burnin’ Love.”
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, who represented Searcy as a state senator, said the governor was saddened by the news of Yarnell’s closing. At its 75th anniversary celebration, Beebe reminisced about drinking vanilla milkshakes with Yarnell’s ice cream at a corner drug store when he was a child.
Social Media Reactions to Company Closing
So as employees of Yarnell’s in Searcy, Arkansas and other towns try to understand what’s happened and what comes next. My heart goes out to them. I’m willing to bet that some families likely worked here for generations — just like the Yarnell’s themselves. The current CEO, Christina Yarnell, posted a message to the company’s website and the Facebook page. The reactions expressed on the company’s social media are intriguing. I’d group them into a few categories:
- People who want to offer moral support to the Yarnell’s employees losing their jobs.
- Really bitter people who either lost their job as the company closed, lost it previously or have someone they know impacted directly.
- People who have been fans of the products Yarnell’s produced and are sad to see it close.
- Fans of the products who are hopeful some change can still come.
Having gone through company cutbacks before, I wonder if the reactions I’ve seen posted to the page are different than other company’s have experienced which were publicly traded. For a family-owned business, dealing with significant economic issues does optimism have a different impact on how you communicate the economics at foot? I mean the SEC reporting structure makes it clear when a corporation is very structured and disclosures of various types must be made. Of course, all of this is from an uninformed outsiders viewpoint.
The fact that the dairy industry has had such troubling times on the farm, makes me wonder if we should expect anything different of other steps in the food chain. With the small market Yarnell’s served, their costs were likely different than the national and global brands. the news reports I’ve seen said the Yarnell family sought a number of solutions, including looking for buyers. That didn’t happen though. And I have to wonder whether other local & regional ice cream companies are feeling the same economic pinch. With the push for local food, do people take time to learn about local dairies and local suppliers of dairy products or do people continue to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream & Kraft cheeses? For me, its a combination of buying local/regional and other larger brands. And I had to wonder to myself whether I would have mad a different choice at the dairy case last week if I thought making purchases of the other regional brand (Blue Bell that started in Texas).
Is this an Outlier? Or a Sign of More to Come?
I find it strange that local businesses like Yarnell’s that offer a premium product are having such a tough time in the economy when it seems like eating local is all the rage. But with the dire straits that the dairy industry has been facing (need I remind you of New Year’s & moo?), maybe the dairy industry is being hurt in particular. I mean if dairy farmers are having a really tough time of it, do we all expect the companies that deliver the dairy products to us to be immune?
All of this is so depressing that I feel like drowning my sorrows in a tub of death by chocolate ice cream…. I wonder if I can still find any.
Doing Your Part
By the way, the NPR article says Americans eat an average of 20 quarts of ice cream each year which makes us the world’s biggest consumers of the icy treat. Do you think you meet the average or do you come in above or below it? I think I may need to step it up. Am sure some of my dairy farming friends could produce extra milk on their farms if we need it!
Learning More About Dairy
I have to admit that I don’t know much about ice cream companies. Don’t know people who do, but I know a lot of people who know a lot about dairy. And quite a few are nice enough to routine share their knowledge through blogging. You can check out some of the dairy farm blogs I read (and I’m sure I miss a lot more so if you have a dairy farm blog, please speak up) at:
- Dairy Discovery — I met these Michigan dairy farmers in Atlanta during the Farm Bureau meeting. Jerry & Annie are enthusiastic about agriculture and took full advantage of meeting other people and working through some of the blogging info. By the way, this may have one of the coolest photos as the header I’ve seen.
- Dairy Goddess’s Blog — If you want to know about dairy farming from a great source, check out what Barbara’s been up to! She’s either out walking the barn taking care of Chica and others, making cheese or something fun!
- Dairy Innovation — Ashley Messing is a dairy farm girl from the thumb of Michigan. She’s got a great combination of stories about life on the farm, things she’s come across through studies or work, etc. You really should read this one!
- The Durrer Family – Our Life on a Real California Dairy Farm — I got lucky and Ellen connected with me through Facebook mutual friends! She’s got a great combination of stories and photos with young kids in central CA.
- Ray-Lin Dairy – If I had a brother who was a dairy farmer in California, I’m guessing it would be Ray. He rocks.
- The Dairy Mom — Dairy farming in northeast Ohio is a celebration of family for this dairy mom.
- The Dairyman’s Blog – Will Gilmer of Gilmer Dairy in Sulligent, Alabama puts together thoughts about the farm and agriculture.
- Truth or Dairy is by Carla & Kris who describe themselves as having recently chucked the corporate life for life on the farm. While the blog is relatively new, it’s clear they are happy with their decision.
- The Weiss Centennial Farm is in Frankenmuth, MI, a town I’d never even heard of til a friend asked me to go to a regional dairy leadership conference there recently! They do a great job telling their story whether it is about the daily ins & outs of the dairy farm or their trip through ice in Atlanta.
- Zweber Family Farm News – Emily and Tim Zweber write about their farm and the area that it supplies fresh food & dairy to around Minneapolis.