Sweet success in rural Wisconsin
Suzanne Sebion is passionate about organic, farm-fresh food and living a natural, simple lifestyle. She’s also passionate about revitalizing her community and saving the family farm. This southwestern Wisconsin woman found the perfect outlet for her passion – ice cream.
In 2001, Sebion began producing Sibby’s Homestead Organic Ice Cream. It’s free of preservatives, chemical additives and genetically engineered ingredients, and it is soooo good! Today she makes her custard-like organic ice cream daily at the 3,500-square-foot homestead creamery she built on the farm that has been in her family for 150 years.
A parcel delivery truck driver for 19 years, Sebion saw firsthand the growing organic movement in Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley, and she wanted to be a part of it. With roots in dairy farming, her thoughts turned to ice cream, and, with some help from University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy science professor Dr. Robert Bradley, she created the perfect recipe. Certified 100 percent organic, Sibby’s uses fresh organic cream from local farmers, organic cocoa, organic egg yolks and pure organic vanilla extract.
With the perfect recipe and a few pints of her handmade ice cream, she hit the road to market her product.
"I bought a deep freeze and would go to Madison and Milwaukee once a month and deliver to food co-ops in La Crosse and Winona," Sebion says. She continued that practice until she had enough customers to attract a distributor.
Sibby’s has come a long way since that first trek to Madison. Though she oversees everything, Sebion has a manager to handle much of the production and make ice cream five days a week.
Sibby’s Homestead Organic Ice Cream can be found in food co-ops and natural food stores in 16 states and is now distributed throughout the Midwest by organic distributor United Natural Foods.
"We are in all the Whole Foods Markets now in the Midwest, and I’m meeting with Costco next month," Sebion says. "We will take it national next summer."
This sweet Wisconsin treat has even drawn international interest.
"Last week, I was contacted by someone in Shanghai, wondering if I’m ready to move into the major cities in China," Sebion says. "I would supply the five-star hotels as a boutique ice cream."
Sebion attributes her international fame to her new packaging and redesigned Web site – released in 2007.
"Sibby’s is food without judgment. It’s the way I live my life," Sebion says. "I decided to label it ‘The Official Planet Peace Food.’ Eat in peace. Love Sibby. It’s short, it’s simple, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart."
Since releasing her new label, she has spoken with farmers and representatives from Costa Rica, Panama, Canada, Ireland, Turkmenistan, Brazil and beyond.
"Who knows what will come across my desk next week," Sebion says. "Is it because it’s the Official Planet Peace Food? Probably!"
World peace is a pretty big undertaking for a little pint of ice cream, but this ice cream, produced in one of Wisconsin’s poorest counties, is also the foundation of another noble effort. Sebion hopes the ice cream that returned productivity to her family farm can help do the same for the nearby rural community of Viroqua.
In late 2007, Sebion, along with business partner Tony Macasaet opened an organic ice cream shop, Organic Zone, in the recently renovated Main Street Station, an indoor public market on Viroqua’s Main Street. The market is an outlet for area artists and entrepreneurs to market their wares.
"Tony and I are local kids. We’ve seen our downtown fall apart. And we are trying to rebuild our town," Sebion says. "We are trying to create jobs here in the market. We’ve got 90 merchants that make money each month. Everything here is based on fair trade, localism and organics. What we are doing is working – in the name of organic ice cream."
All the ice cream sold at the Organic Zone is produced at Sebion’s homestead creamery, just a few miles away.
"We bring the mix here – have a soft serve machine and can do all these crazy specialty ice creams. I’m doing wild huckleberry that we buy from farmers in Montana. I buy my walnuts from a widowed Amish woman, who supports seven of her children off of her little store here. The candy comes from an Amish lady, too."
Sebion enjoys supporting local growers and mentoring others to run businesses, especially in organic foods.
"So instead of four people on the planet owning our food supply, we take it back – little by little, and all the job creation that goes along with it. And good food again," Sebion adds. "That’s something we grew up with. It’s not rocket science."
Leah Call writes from her farm in Westby, Wisconsin. In addition to writing, her passions include llamas, her family and, of course, ice cream!
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