As co-owner of Dan & Debbie’s Creamery, Debbie Takes and her husband, Dan, have dedicated their lives to building a sustainable farm and modern-day dairy
processing facility in Ely, just southeast of Cedar Rapids. It’s a family affair — and a dream come true.
“My husband and I started a dairy farm 20 years ago. We had been farming for a number of years, but with six children, Dan and I were looking for a way to have a more stable income along with a way for me to be able to work from home with my young kids.”
“Just over two years ago, we expanded our dairy farm by adding a creamery, allowing us to make dairy products out of our milk,” Takes said.
In the dairy industry, milk prices can fluctuate greatly. After researching options, the Takes started planning a new venture they could dive into.
“Dan really started exploring the ‘farm-to-table creamery’ concept,” Takes said. “It was appealing to us that by adding value to our milk we could better control the milk prices our farm was getting, which would allow us the ability to do some really unique things on our farm and offer dairy consumers really delicious, unique products.”
And customers are loving what the Creamery has to offer. From rich ice cream to gourmet cheeses and gift baskets featuring locally made products — Debbie and Dan Takes and their family have found their niche in Eastern Iowa.
As the business has grown over the years, the staff has expanded and her role has changed.
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“I wear many different hats in our business — like many other small business owners,” she said. The cows need to be milked twice a day every day. She also helps make ice cream, assists with other aspects of production and works in the store.
Today, four of the six Takes’ children — who are now all adults — work at the creamery and the farm. For Takes, it means a lot to know that her work is leaving behind a legacy.
“We’ve worked hard for everything we have, but it’s not always come easy,” she said. “For a long time, it’s been a dream to be able to have the creamery and the farm work together to create a suitable enterprise that will live on for generations to come.”
As a female working in the traditionally male-dominated industry, Takes does have a certain perspective on the challenges her family has faced over the years. But she has never questioned her ability or will to succeed as a farmer.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “I’ve always tried to ignore any type of gender stereotype that exists. I grew up on a farm in Swisher with a mother who never let her gender affect how she contributed. She was out on the tractor every summer and did anything that any male did. That’s something that I’ve always carried with me.”
Her can-do approach also has worn off on her colleagues. The Creamery and farm have a staff of some full-time and quite a few part-time employees.
“At the Creamery, we have a great group of people, which now that I think about it, are mostly women,” Takes said.
As with any business, there are ups and down, but Takes keeps a positive attitude. “Things are going to go wrong. I’ve learned to try to not focus on what’s going wrong all the time and try to spend more time celebrating what is going right.”
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It’s clear that at Dan & Debbie’s Creamery, plenty is going right. As the business continues to expand, Takes is looking forward to coming improvements.
“Over the next year, we are just really excited to transition our farm from a conventional dairy parlor to having two robotic milkers on-site and the expansion of our product line to include more ice cream flavors and a bigger variety of aged cheeses,” she said.
Sometimes, their new product ideas are lucky accidents.
“Joanie, Sue and I were at the creamery making ice cream one day, and we started mixing a batch and realized we forgot to add a few ingredients,” she said. “Not wanting to waste the batch, we rushed into our refrigerator to grab a bunch of different things to throw in it.
“After it froze completely, our team tried it and fell in love. It ended up being one of our best-selling ice creams: Purple Cow Pie. It’s a vanilla base with black raspberry swirl and crumbled pieces of ever-so-slightly salted pie crust.”
As Takes looks forward to new ideas, and a promising future for the creamery, she also looks back on her career with a lot of gratitude.
“I’m just really blessed to have a team who all understand and appreciate what we are doing and support our mission and the goals we are trying to achieve,” she said.
“There is a reason we all wake up and go to work every day. It might be passion, it might be money, it might be family ... whatever the reason is, don’t ever lose sight of it.”