Grant supports opening of Dairy Pilot Plant, student-run business

Ice cream will soon be the next product made and sold by students on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus. A recent grant from the Compeer Financial Fund for Rural America will support the opening of UW-Platteville’s Dairy Pilot Plant and the creation of a student-run ice cream production business.

Dr. Tera Montgomery, professor in UW-Platteville’s School of Agriculture, has been making ice cream with students in her Dairy Products class for several years, but only on a small scale, occasionally receiving conditional permits to serve it at events.

“The more we make it, the more people say how awesome it is and that we should look into making and selling it here,” she said.

Montgomery said she expects the student-run business to start production in the early part of the spring semester. Construction is underway for the Dairy Pilot Plant, which will be located in Glenview Commons, next to the hydroponics lab. A four-person student team will oversee the business initially, dividing duties into the areas of production/sanitation, accounting and marketing/logistics. An external advisory board of alumni will also provide input.

While the students will start the business with pre-packaged ice-cream mix, the long-term goal is to use milk from Pioneer Farm, and eventually branch out to goat and sheep milk – a niche market in Southwest Wisconsin.

The ice cream will be sold to Dining Services, where it will be available for purchase in pints at the various markets and stores on campus. Montgomery and the students also plan to purchase a trailer or truck to make the business mobile, possibly serving ice cream at Pioneer football games or various locations throughout town. 

Montgomery said this opportunity will not only benefit the students, but also their communities.

“We have a lot of students who are coming from rural communities, who want to be able to stay in those communities and want to understand business principles and entrepreneurship,” she said. “I think this will really help raise awareness of the benefits of keeping our rural communities vibrant. It’s also going to give students a chance to have pride in making something that others enjoy and get excited about that creation.”

The recent approval of the UW System’s Dairy Innovation Hub may lead to further opportunities tied to this business, and, according to Montgomery, could involve anyone on campus.

“This is an opportunity to do something fun, but it also highlights the fact that just about every major at our university can do something that has a positive impact on the dairy industry,” she said. “That includes ethnic studies looking at immigration, psychology looking at mental health, exploring land stewardship and water issues, looking at the business side of things. It is such a huge part of what we do in the state, and all of us could have an impact, even if it’s not immediately obvious.”