BY JORDAN RICHART
For The Republic
The recent period of extremely cold weather has many people, including a local dairy farmer, eyeing the warmer days of spring.
Jon Claycamp’s vision extends, however, well beyond spring because the farmers markets and local festivals conducted throughout the spring, summer and fall are great places to market the ice cream, cheese, butter and raw milk he produces.
Claycamp is busy planning his first full season of offering the items made at Lot Hill Dairy Farm, which has been in operation north of Cortland since the mid-1960s.
During the colder months, Claycamp sells his products out of the small farm store alongside the cabin on the farm, which was started by his father, Bob. Bob is still a co-owner of the farm.
He has put quite a lot of money into the equipment it takes to make, package and sell the products, Claycamp said.
Large tanks, equipment and ice cream machines line the back room of the shop, ready to produce enough pints and gallons of ice cream to fill the commercial freezer in the front for customers to purchase.
Claycamp makes large quantities of ice cream once a month through the cooler seasons of the year but will make 15 to 20 gallons of ice cream a week come summer.
“That was last year, and with this being our first full year, I expect to have to make more,” he said.
He bottles the raw milk every five days and produces 15 pounds of cheese every two weeks.
“I don’t know what I love about making cheeses, but I really do,” he said. “I love taking a raw product and turning it into something fantastic and knowing exactly where it came from.”
Claycamp maintains he has something large companies can’t offer: A profound level of freshness.
“You can taste the difference,” he said. “I will dump milk in here in the morning and have cheese in a few hours. That’s as fresh as you can get, and fresh is quality to me.”
One question many have for Claycamp revolves around raw milk.
Raw milk is unpasteurized and is illegal to sell for human consumption under state law. Claycamp’s permit requires him to label the milk as not for human consumption but for animals.
Claycamp began offering raw milk after demand from customers at farmers markets throughout the season.
“What people do with it after they leave here is not something we can control,” he said.
Many people have insisted the milk is better and has health benefits, Claycamp said.
The shop’s current offerings include several flavors of ice cream and three varieties of cheese. He also offers a seasonal variety of ice cream that rotates throughout the year.
The shop also provides visitors with a view of how the world used to operate under a self-serving honor system. Claycamp leaves his shop unlocked with his cash box out for customers to make their selections and leave cash or an IOU.
“People like to be trusted,” he said of why he isn’t reluctant to operate under the honor system. “The door is open all the time, and I’m sure someone has taken a pint of ice cream or a thing of cheese, but for the most part, I think everyone is honest.”
Claycamp said he also is not worried because officers with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department have checked in on the store several times since it has been opened.
Claycamp has his sights set on starting a restaurant sometime in the future in the quaint cabin that sits on the property. Those plans are still in their infancy, Claycamp said.
He said he wants to offer breakfast with a focus on weekends.
“I don’t know when that will be,” he said, adding the availability of time is the biggest factor preventing him from adding the restaurant.
“I don’t have much of it,” he said.
There’s not much time to spare when you operate a dairy farm with 60 cows that have to be milked two times a day, although his father helps out.
Claycamp also hauls and delivers the milk himself to Tulip Tree Creamery in Indianapolis a couple of times a week.
He said he came up with the idea to offer ice cream after years of bringing it to parties with family and friends.
“We got everything figured out seven or eight years ago, and we’d just make it for our neighbors’ Fourth of July party and bring 20 or 30 gallons with us in the cooler and give it away,” he said.
Then Claycamp got the idea to serve ice cream from the farm cabin and at local farmers markets. He began renovating the small store and got approval from the health department a week before the Seymour Area Farmers Market opened.
“We bought a dipping cabinet and set it up and have been doing well with it,” he said.
During the warmer months, Claycamp will operate the dipping cabinet from the store while also offering it at farmers markets and festivals.
So far, the biggest event he has had a part in is the Jackson County Fair, where he let students from the county’s FFA chapters dip his ice cream outside the Young MacDonald’s Farm building as a fundraiser. Claycamp said it felt good to help the organization, and the fundraiser was successful.
“They sold 160 gallons of ice cream one dip at the time the week of the fair,” he said.
The fundraiser also brought awareness to his products and farm. He said he noticed a spike in business following the fair.
As he looks forward to continuing his new venture, Claycamp said warmer weather can’t come soon enough.
“I’m ready to get going and start dipping more ice cream,” he said.
That’s a thought many can get behind.