Porterfields continues its farming heritage with a farm and ice cream shop

Kirke Porterfield holds a cup of ice cream next to Kirke’s Homemade Ice Cream “cow van” in St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Sept. 13. (Photo by Sarah Donaldson)

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Running a successful ice cream shop requires some of the same skills as running a farm. Kirke Porterfield of Kirke’s Homemade Ice Cream would know. He did both.

For seven generations, his family has operated a farm in St. Clairsville, Ohio, and he has spent years raising cattle and growing crops such as corn, oats, wheat and hay. After some time in farming, he and his wife, Judi, decided to go into ice cream making and open an ice cream shop in 1992.

Starting a business can be an uphill battle at first, even if you’re not also running a farm. For a while, Kirke spent his days farming and his nights making ice cream..

“I would say, eat, drink and sleep,” Kirke said. “In the beginning, you just have to focus on everything you have.”

It pays off for him and his family. Now, 30 years later, he’s focused on the ice cream shop and passed the farm on to the next generation.

“The people you meet – it’s just awesome,” he said. “Everyone loves ice cream. It takes you back to when you were little.

Family

The family’s farming and ice cream history goes back much further than Kirke and Judi. In 1926, Kirke’s mother’s side of the family had a farm on State Road 250. They started housing people on the farm as part of their business, then started selling meals and making ice cream more late. In 1943, they focused solely on ice cream.

Kirke’s cousins ​​eventually took over the family business, but Kirke was interested in starting his own. This meant he had to learn how to make ice cream.

“Most ice cream vendors are pretty secretive,” Kirke said.

He had some experience making ice cream from working with his grandfather and because his father made and sold ice cream near Marietta. Kirke met someone who sold ice cream flavors and offered to teach him how to make ice cream if Kirke would buy flavors from him.

“I said, ‘if the ice is good, we have a deal,'” Kirke said. It was, and they did. “I’ve always loved cooking, so ice cream, I fell into it.”

A man stands next to an ice cream maker.
Kirke Porterfield shows off the ice cream maker at Kirke’s Homemade Ice Cream in St. Clairsville on September 13. (Photo by Sarah Donaldson)

Ice cream

Kirke remembers the exact day the ice cream shop opened: August 12, 1992. In some ways, that has since changed. He’s moved to different recipes for certain flavors, to accommodate supply chain challenges, and only recently had the name painted on the side of the building. He also added the “cow van”, a van with freezers that he uses to bring ice cream to events.

But in other ways, it remains pretty much the same. The ice cream maker he uses at the store is the same one he bought in 1992.

“We bought it new in 1992, and I had no problems with it,” Kirke said. “I tell people if the pope wanted ice cream tomorrow I would make it today because the machine is so reliable.”

Starting the ice cream business was a turbulent time. At this time, Kirke and Judi were still running the farm. Their children were all still in school and in other programs like 4-H. There was a lot of back and forth between the farm and the ice cream shop. Sometimes Kirke was in a hay field until 9 p.m. and making ice cream until 3 a.m. Now things have calmed down.

“On the farm, your hands are always dirty,” Kirke said. “As the boys got older, they did a lot of the agricultural work; I made the ice cream.

Cultivate

About 10 years ago, Kirke handed over the farm entirely to the next generation. Today, one of his sons, Brian, runs the farm. Another, Kevin, runs a metal fabrication shop from the farm, working mostly on equipment for the oil and gas industry.

Since taking over the farm, Brian has focused heavily on rotational grazing and pasture management. He began this job in 2003, after graduating from The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute.

For a time he worked off the farm at the County Soil and Water Conservation District and later at the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Over the years he began to lease more land and expand the herd until he was at a point where he could stay on the farm full time.

“I mostly like working for myself,” Brian said.

Today, he manages approximately 3,000 acres of land that he owns and leases, and approximately 325 cows on his beef cow-calf operation. He still grows hay, but can sell most of it since the cattle graze all year round. Porterfield Farms is GAP-certified through the Global Animal Partnership, and the cattle are sold online either to feedlots or to people who finish them on grass, after they’re weaned.

A man stands in a pasture near beef cattle
Brian Porterfield in one of Porterfield Farms pastures in St. Clairsville, Ohio on September 13. (Photo by Sarah Donaldson)

Transition

For Kirke, giving up running the farm was important. He knows that some people struggle to pass the baton to the next generation, and also knows some people who, at 50, still don’t have much say in decisions about their family business.

“I never want it to be like this,” he said. “So I just say, ‘Brian, you’re in charge, let’s go.'”

This approach has worked well for them. The transition was smooth, and for Brian, having time to grow the business before returning full-time also helped.

“I just started renting land and equipment, and as I grew I started buying equipment, adding livestock and transitioning that way,” he said. he declares. Later, he plans to add more land as it becomes available and try to grow the herd by continuing to better manage the pastures.

Challenges

The past two years have brought challenges to the ice cream shop. Supply chain issues made it harder to get some ingredients, so they had to update recipes in some cases. Some of the companies they ordered supplies from went out of business, so they had to find new places to get supplies.

“But we were very lucky with help,” Kirke said. “The employees have not been a problem at all. It has been a blessing.

He thinks there are several reasons for this. It’s more relaxed than some fast food jobs, and the Porterfields do their best to keep it a fun environment. The store can be busy at certain times, for example on Sunday afternoons. But other times it’s slow enough for the students working there to do their homework.

And one thing that hasn’t changed is the process of making ice cream.

“We do it like we always have,” Kirke said.

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