Bobby makes ice cream, and we're better for it

After a costly legal battle with neighbors, Prigels prevail

September 27, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

Bobby Prigel has started off on the right foot — with ice cream. He'll get to the bottled milk, cheese, butter and yogurt later. Right now, he's only selling ice cream, and the good stuff you can make with ice cream, like milkshakes. I got a call on Saturday from Steve Belkoff, a Prigel supporter. He had his first Prigel milkshake in hand, took a sip while he was on the phone with me, and declared it delicious.

You can't go wrong if you start with ice cream.

After a long, unfortunate and costly legal battle with some of his Long Green neighbors in Baltimore County, Bobby Prigel has opened his organic creamery for operations. He'll no longer have to sell his milk to Horizon Organic, which ships it 360 miles to Buffalo, N.Y., for organic-certified processing. Mr. Prigel can do it all in the new building across the road from his family's 115-year-old farm in Glen Arm. He's a fourth-generation farmer who moves his free-range cows each day from pasture to pasture, sometimes stopping traffic on Long Green Road to do so. He doesn't use antibiotics on his Jersey cows. He doesn't spread chemicals on his land.

A few years ago, Mr. Prigel went organic, and then he got the idea of doing his own thing: processing his cows' milk himself instead of selling it to Horizon. He wanted to offer organic dairy products to the public, all of it made right on the premises, reducing his carbon footprint in the process.

But some of his well-to-do valley neighbors objected. They didn't like the 10,000-square foot building Mr. Prigel built — my god, it looked like a barn! — and they were worried that he would become an industrial operation and draw a lot of traffic.

The Prigel land is designated for agricultural preservation, and opponents objected to the commercial creamery on those grounds, too.

In response to that, Thomas Bostwick, the county's deputy zoning commissioner, took a shot at all those suburbanites and exurbanites who think of farmland as landscape and not a place where families make a living: "The concept of agricultural preservation includes taking steps to preserve agricultural businesses rather that simply preserving open space and pastures and attractive views of the countryside for nonfarmers who happen to live in agricultural areas."

Also damaging the opponents' case was the fact that Maryland agricultural preservation laws do not prevent farmers from processing and selling what they produce on their own land.

Common sense. Can you imagine?

Mr. Prigel won two zoning decisions and a court case. Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith supported him. So did the entire Baltimore County Council. A lot of Mr. Prigel's friends and other neighbors staged fundraisers to help with his legal bills.

The first time I visited the new creamery, two years ago this week, it was just a shell of a building with a dirt floor. Everything was at a standstill. Mr. Prigel said the battle already had cost him $60,000. Within a year, the bill was $130,000. Monday, Mr. Prigel said the final bills were "approaching $200,000." But people who really wanted his creamery to become a reality raised $70,000 for him. "That's really incredible," Mr. Prigel said. "And so many people helped, too many to mention. Friends, and friends I didn't know, and friends I still don't know."

In the end, he prevailed, and last year the county gave him a $250,000 low-interest loan.

I got the phone call about the first milkshake on Saturday. The Prigels, Bobby and Pam, will have a grand opening soon. In the meantime, during a "soft opening," they're selling ice cream, noon to dusk each day but Sunday, and the world is a better place.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He's host of Midday on WYPR 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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