‘Nice Cream’ will put up fight

By Sophia Coleman

Ice cream lovers in Chicago and the rest of Illinois may find their options limited in the search for organic frozen treats.

Governmental crackdowns on small businesses and family farms are increasing across the country, according to the documentary “Farmageddon,” which had its Chicago premiere on Aug. 27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.

The film documents farmers who have been subjected to raids by the government—sometimes even at gunpoint—for selling their raw milk.

“[The government] seems to be very hyper-focused on small producers [who] never made anyone sick,” said “Farmageddon” director Kristen Canty. “[Meanwhile], the large producers get off scot-free—even when they do make people sick.”

A local ice-cream business, Nice Cream, though not featured in the film, has also been facing a similar situation.

Although owner Kris Swanberg does not use raw milk to create her ice cream, the pasteurized milk and organic produce she uses caused the Illinois Department of Public Health to intervene.

In mid-July, an inspector of the IDPH came into Logan Square Kitchen, 2333 N. Milwaukee Ave., a shared kitchen space in which Swanberg uses to make her ice cream. The inspector informed her that she would have to shut down unless she obtained a “dairy license” and bought a pasteurizer.

“[The inspector] said somebody brought our name up to the state of Illinois and said we were working without a dairy license,” Swanberg said. “Which is weird because we have been making ice cream for three years, and we didn’t even know there was such thing as a dairy license.”

According to Melanie Arnold, spokeswoman for IDPH, ice cream is heavily regulated because all kinds of foods can be added to the mixture.

“If you put something in it—for example, strawberries—[ice cream] acts as kind of a vehicle that allows bacteria to grow quicker than in other food items,” Arnold said.

Before Nice Cream’s run-in with the IDPH, the ice cream was sold at Whole Foods and farmers’ markets. Now, Swanberg has been ordered to stop producing and selling her product until she meets all of the regulations.

“It was all a big surprise,” she said. “We thought we were totally legit. We thought that we got everything we needed from the city.”

In addition to getting a dairy license and purchasing a pasteurizer, Swanberg would also be required to work out of a dairy-licensed facility and change the labels on her product to include a consumer warning.

“[The IDPH] isn’t saying [Swanberg’s] product is unsafe; it’s just that without her following the rules and regulations, there is potential for a food-borne outbreak,” Arnold said. “What the law requires is that she must have a dairy license and she must have a pasteurizer, unless she uses a premade mix.”

Swanberg said the pasteurizer she would have to buy would cost approximately $40,000—a price her small business cannot currently afford.

Swanberg’s method of making ice cream involves using pasteurized Lake Valley milk, which is then repasteurized by boiling it over a stove. Depending on the flavor, organic produce is added to the handcrafted ice cream. Swanberg’s use of strawberries was also IDPH’s concern because they have the potential to carry high levels of bacteria.

“We do repasteurization,” Swanberg said. “We just do [it] with a stove and a pot instead of a fancy machine that big corporations have to use.”

Swanberg sent ice-cream samples—including a flavor called fresh strawberry with angel food cake—to Deibel Labs, in Lincolnwood, Ill., to get tested for bacteria levels. According to Swanberg, the results showed her product was “way below bacteria levels.”

Rather than sit back and shut down, Swanberg decided to take on Illinois legislation and try to change the policies that are inhibiting small ice creameries.

“The more I talk to ice-cream makers across the state, the more [I find out that] this is screwing all of them,” Swanberg said.

Swanberg has gained the interest of Illinois State Representative Tony Berrios and State Senator Iris Martinez and is working on creating a bill that will potentially put small Illinois ice-creameries under a different umbrella than large corporations. Swanberg also plans to send a letter this week to Gov. Pat Quinn asking him to recognize Nice Cream’s pasteurization process.

Canty is also working with the government to make regulations that “keep people safe but also doesn’t put small farmers out of business.”

Swanberg hopes that by next summer Nice Cream will be back in stores.

“I am pro-regulation because it’s important that we don’t serve people poison,” Swanberg said, “but at the same time [the government] can’t prevent all risks; they can only manage them. We have to be able to decide some things for ourselves—and one of those things should be eating

ice cream.”