Snoqualmie Ice Cream is as delicious as it is environmental
STORY BY GRACE HENSLEY
PHOTOS BY GRACE HENSLEY AND LYNNE HARRISON
It took ten years to make the honey-lavender ice cream that is slowly melting in my cup, but the journey started even earlier. In 1997, Barry Bettinger and his wife Shahnaz left their hometown in northern New York to buy the small gourmet Snoqualmie Ice Cream company, then located in Lynnwood, WA. Barry had grown up on his father’s award-winning conservation farm, eventually becoming a dairy plant manager, but harbored a dream of running his own business. “It was either ice cream or cheese,” says Snoqualmie marketing manager Samantha Hill, “as long as they could work together.”
In 2003, the Bettingers purchased a two and a half acre site in downtown Maltby, WA, where they now produce their thick ice cream and sorbets. Not only do they make their own ice cream, the Snoqualmie base is used by other companies—most notably Molly Moon’s and Full Tilt— who customize it with their own flavor combinations. It’s an enjoyable business for both the Bettingers. “With ice cream, you see lots of happy faces,” says Shahnaz.
With their lifelong commitment to conservation, the Bettingers have developed a unique model. They’ve incorporated sustainable practices into each aspect of their business, while still growing a remarkable 10-20% each year. They now produce almost 700,000 pints of ice cream each year, with flavors like Toasted Coconut and Kentucky Bourbon. While the vision has been clear from the start, execution takes time. Sustainability isn’t something you can purchase and install instantly, “It’s more of a process,” says Barry, “a journey.”
“Originally, we planned to start over and build a new factory, but 90% of recycled houses go to the dump,” says Tammy Olivieri, Snoqualmie’s former café manager. Instead, they decided to renovate a house already on the property to suit their purposes. They raised the roof of the garage to create their small-batch kitchen and recently expanded café. You can still see the original layout of the family room with cozy fireplace. Bedrooms are used as offices, solar panels adorn the roof, and the exterior is painted a cheerful barn red to fit the rural community
Adjacent to the barn is the storage freezer. When the double doors open, icy air billows out and reveals colorful pints stacked in frosty towers. When they started up, the Bettingers were shocked by the high volume of water used in production. By converting to an air-cooled system they now save over 200 gallons of water an hour—and with the addition of equipment designed to capture waste-heat, they now use less energy.
When the parking lot at their factory flooded, the Bettingers sought advice from the Sustainable Development Task Force of Snohomish County. Guided by a master plan, the parking area was replaced with pervious concrete that allows for water absorption and bio-filtration swales were built to direct water into the landscape. With the planned rainwater collection system, they’ll be able to irrigate their farm for free, saving even more water and money. “Sustainable design requires a different pattern of thinking and operating for businesses, says Zsofia Pasztor, lead designer on the project. “By making these improvements, the Snoqualmie Ice Cream company is becoming an agritourism hotspot.”
I meet up with Barry Bettinger on his demonstration farm, as he starts his morning chores in the cool morning air, more farmer than factory owner today. Barry confidently checks on his 400 chickens, who mob around him and peck his watch as he breaks up the day-old bread donated by the Panzanella Bread Company in Everett. He surveys the flock and collects the pale brown and white eggs in a wire basket to use in the next batch of ice cream.
Committed to sourcing locally, the Bettingers buy their milk from Edaleen Dairy in Lynden, WA. “By purchasing from a single dairy, we can trace our products through the system,” says Barry. The rich, almost 20% butterfat cream is combined with the hyper-local eggs to make the sundaes, floats, and even the boozy shakes recently added to their spring menu.
To obtain ingredients harvested at the peak of flavor, Barry and Shahnaz consulted the Edmonds Community College Horticulture Program to develop a long-term growing plan. Layers of trees and shrubs, along with edible flowers, have been planted throughout the grounds. The front strolling garden is already producing apples, sour cherries, jostaberries, blueberries, and currants. Lush strawberries overflow five-gallon bucket ziggurats, keeping them off the ground, and fresh herbs like sage and thyme will be added to the flatbread pizzas on their new café menu. Young peach trees flank the hill created from the parking-lot renovation, underplanted with mint and new blueberry shrubs. Jokingly, the Bettingers have planted a ‘Garden Bed,’ complete with bedside table and dresser.
From the hilltop, you can see the new, green-roofed chicken-coop with ample room for the young New Hampshire Reds, Barred Rocks, and White Leghorns. A new pasture for an additional 200 chickens is being added. The Bettinger’s chicken feed is supplemented with food waste rejected by wholesale suppliers, donated by local farmers and businesses, and even weeds pulled from the farm. “Farmers are giving us everything, instead of sending it to the landfill.” Barry explains. When the chickens reach the end of their egg-laying life in about two years, they may be butchered on-site and donated to the neighboring food-bank.
Recently, the Bettingers have partnered with the non-profit, Farmer Frog, using Will Allen’s Growing Power model to train local and low-income families to grow healthy food sustainably on a small scale. “Our extra food goes to hungry stomachs,” says Samantha Hill, “It works for all of us.”
This cup of honey lavender ice cream I’m eating is more than a sweet treat—it’s the result of years of thought and planning, community consultation and collaboration. At 700,000 pints a year, that’s a lot of good being done. “The more people who have such passion for sustainability like Barry, the more we can inspire others,” says Zsofia Pasztor.
I think I’ll have another scoop.
The Snoqualmie Ice Cream Cafe
21106 86th Avenue SE, Maltby, WA 98296
A former molecular biologist and software geek, Grace Hensley has turned her attention to sustainable farming, chicken wrangling, and horticulture. She applies her passion for science writing and photography on her blog, etilth.com.