This fall, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor will open its doors in the former Visitors Center on Neyland Drive. The UT Creamery, a multidisciplinary experiential student effort, will combine retail skills like sales and marketing with the science of creating the products.
“It’s been amazing to watch the creamery project come to life,” says senior retail and consumer sciences major Samantha Adams from Seymour, Tennessee. “All these ideas that we talked about two semesters ago have come to fruition, from forming our marketing strategy, developing a survey about what people expect, naming the ice cream flavors, to the design, layout, flooring, and signs.”
Adams is one of nine undergraduate fellows of the Rocky Top Institute, a partnership between UT’s Retail and Consumer Science program in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management and the House of Bryant Publications—which represents the family of “Rocky Top” writers Felice and Boudleaux Bryant—to develop student-created merchandise.
Food Science Extension Specialist Nathan Miller is the creamery manager. Dairy and food science students in the UT Institute of Agriculture will source local milk to create the ice cream and formulate the flavors. “This gives the students an opportunity to showcase a product they created and sent to market,” says Miller, “all the while giving them the hands-on experiential learning to prepare them as they leave UT and enter the workforce. Our goal is to give our students the competitive edge they need to make them more successful as they start their careers.”
“We are 100 percent in partnership with the goal of student experiential learning,” says Rocky Top Institute and Creamery Retail Director Myra Loveday. “It will lead to great collaborations and cross-functional interests. Rocky Top Institute Fellows will collaborate with UTIA food science students to create UT Creamery–branded products. Both the UT Creamery and Rocky Top brand will be sold at the creamery with the retail students learning new categories. The food science team will learn the retail side of the business. RTI Fellows will train and manage creamery student workers, which will enhance their retail business knowledge and people-management skills.”
A broader goal of the project is to foster a culture and an economy of artisanal dairy products in East Tennessee that can help family dairy farms survive and prosper. That vision has come from alumnae Sue Conley (’75) and Peggy Smith—San Francisco Bay area cheesemaking entrepreneurs who have generously supported the creamery project for more than 10 years while imparting the lessons of sustainable agriculture and dairy product marketing they learned after starting their Cowgirl Creamery in 1997.
With those lessons, Conley and Smith established a foundation to help keep farmers viable and enable their value-added artisanal products to take off. Today the Bay area has some 30 cheesemakers and the nation’s largest concentration of organic farms.
“The only place that is on a level with us is Vermont,” says Conley. “Here in Tennessee there is so much potential. The market is there. There are not that many family dairies, but it would be great to see them come back.”
Meet The Cowgirls
Through the UT Creamery and other initiatives, Sue Conley (’75) and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery and cheesemaking fame have sought to ensure their legacy of farm-to-table food and living for the people and places they love.
“In the American cheese community, there’s a spirit of collaboration that hasn’t wavered. UT and this area have that going for it, too,” says Conley. “The UT Creamery is an important project. This kind of business helps everybody—the community, farmers, and consumers who want healthy food.”
That’s why the Cowgirls have ensured the creamery’s future through bequests and other
charitable giving to UT. The university holds a special place in their hearts. It was where they became friends and where they began working in the restaurant and food industry, starting out in local Knoxville restaurants.
Their friendship held fast throughout college and was further solidified by a cross-country road trip in a beat-up Chevy van that brought them to their future’s doorstep in the San Francisco Bay area. There they fell in love with the burgeoning food scene that they eventually helped to grow into a culinary movement.
In a full-circle moment, they have been able to help encourage that farm-to-table movement through the creamery at UT where they met as first-year students. When asked what it was about UT that motivated them to include the university in their estate plans, Conley asks, “What don’t we love about UT? I’m glad for the opportunity to give back to my alma mater, where it all started for me and Peggy.”
-By Laura Tenpenny (’11)