Profile: Maple Valley Creamery
Do you know what makes Maple Valley Ice Cream so irresistible? It’s not just the local cream, milk, & pure cane sugar. It’s also a dedication to happy cows, sourcing locally, open spaces, and the community. It’s a desire to provide a future for youth and animals through 4-H and other community connections. This is what you hear from Bruce Jenks and Laurie Cuevas of Maple Valley Creamery in Hadley, who source locally from Mapleline, Shaw, McCray’s and High Lawn Farms to make their well-known and much loved local ice cream brand.
Bruce was inspired to start making a fresh, fully-local ice cream “mix” (the “mix” is the base from which all ice cream flavors are developed) as an alternative to the widely-available frozen mixes. Upon realizing what a truly quality product they had on their hands, Bruce and Laurie decided to launch their own ice cream brand instead of selling their mix to other producers. The operation started very small, with Bruce testing out his ice cream making skills in his farm house kitchen with a Cuisinart, but within several months they were sending product to Whole Foods in Hadley and Serio’s Market in Northampton. Esselon Coffee Roasters and the North Hadley Sugar Shack supplied ingredients in some of the first trial flavors. Now Maple Valley Creamery proudly offers a 28 flavor line of super premium ice cream, along with frozen yogurt, fresh butter, and whole milk ricotta cheese.
During my visit to the farm and creamery I got to meet a group of plump, healthy looking cows that had come in for milking. Laurie discussed their involvement in 4-H while simultaneously rubbing the face of a cow like it was her pet. These ten Brown Swiss cows are matured Maple Valley 4-H project calves that will be bred for future 4-H calves. They will also supply fresh raw milk for the farm store that is currently underway, located several feet from where the cows are milked. Laurie is very close to these animals —they each have names and stories, and they are treated with respect and loved like family. “People like the ice cream, but they really love to learn about our cows,” says Laurie. Misty, the oldest of the herd, is one of the cows I got to meet. With huge eyes and a sweet face, Misty and the rest of the cows seemed more than content eating hay while their milking duties commenced. The new farm puppy, Sydney, had no reservations about being around animals ten times her size. In fact, she delighted in licking the nose of any calf who dared to put their face close enough to the ground. Another group of milking cows owned by Bruce and Laurie are housed at nearby Barstow’s Longview Farm. “The Barstow family has been very kind and supportive of our farm throughout our construction phase,” says Bruce. “With their help in housing our ladies we can easily add cows as the demand for raw milk increases.”
Caitlin and Aaron are the hardworking youth on the farm who are both keen on learning the business. “I told the kids that they didn’t have to grow up and become farmers but they had to understand where their food comes from.” According to Laurie, the farm’s involvement in 4-H has played a huge role in the kids developing a solid work ethic and setting them up to be able to offer something to the community. Caitlin and Aaron are both currently studying Dairy Management at Vermont Tech and are an integral part of the herd management, the farm, and the ice cream business.
Bruce and Laurie’s schedule is beyond busy. They still personally make deliveries to over 40 stops per week, delivering products to their core group of customers from the Berkshires to Boston while their distributor handles customers throughout the rest of New England. With just the four of them in the business, everyone works hard. “We don’t sleep much and have no down time, but we truly love what we do so it’s not a bad thing,” admits Laurie. Bruce adds, “We truly are a ‘micro-dairy’. We don’t even own a tractor. We’ve yet to pay ourselves. We had to decide why we were getting into this and commit to it. We are so very grateful to the Gordon and Terry Smith family who own the farm for providing us a place for our developing dairy.” This lifestyle has been a refreshing contrast to Laurie’s two decades of working a corporate job. She loves being outside and loves the people and animals she interacts with now. The passion the kids have about learning the business has been added inspiration to Bruce and Laurie.
The connection that Maple Valley Creamery has to youth and the academic world is strong. Last spring Bruce and Laurie mentored a UMass Food Science class and helped them develop ice cream flavors. At the end of the semester, Bruce, Laurie and several guest chefs taste-tested four ice cream flavors created by the students. Cherry Chocolate Chunk was deemed the winner, and Maple valley Creamery produced the recipe as a seasonal flavor and sold it in stores with the UMass logo. “We were so honored to work with these brilliant kids who were completing their educations. We worked every day at some point with each group throughout the process, and we loved every minute of it,” said Bruce. Maple Valley donated a percentage of the sales of the UMass pint back to the Food Science class to continue the program. They have been asked to mentor the upcoming class and are looking forward to the process again.
Exciting changes are on the horizon. The creamery has a brand new milk room that they were able to set up partially with a viability grant, and they are working on opening up a store on the farm by mid-January. The store is named Mill Valley Milk Company and the plan is to sell fresh raw milk, ice cream and other local products at the store and make the creamery more of a destination for locals and those passing by. The new milk room is spotless and the store is like stepping into a comfortable rustic farmhouse setting. The plans are ambitious and time is limited but according to Laurie, “Bruce is fearless – he gets things done. He keeps us focused and moving forward every day.” The Maple Valley family is eager to welcome all to meet their beautiful cows and calves and to provide an enjoyable experience for those seeking farm fresh milk and ice cream.