What’s better on a hot summer day than a cold bowl of ice cream … made of sheep’s milk?
The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) Center for Sustainability (CFS) celebrated sheep’s milk ice cream last weekend at the Seventh Annual Taste of the Future Fundraiser when they honored Cal Poly alumna Alexis Negranti with the center’s 2012 Farmer of the Year award for her work at Negranti Dairy and Creamery.
Negranti, who graduated in 2009 with a degree in agricultural science, had the inspiration to start making sheep’s milk ice cream a year and a half ago because she was miserable working at her desk job, she said.
Though she studied agriculture, she never intended to become a farmer, she said.
“I had never milked anything in my life, let alone a sheep,” Negranti said.
Nevertheless, she said she heard that sheep’s milk ice cream was popular in Europe and Australia, and no one had begun producing it in the United States yet. She decided she would be the first, and pitched the idea to her husband, Wade Negranti.
Her husband was naturally skeptical, especially since neither had milked a sheep before, Negranti said.
“He looked at me like I was crazy,” Negranti said of her husbands initial reaction.
Before the idea, Negranti was more of a dress and heels woman than boots and coveralls, she said.
But a month later, in January 2011, the Negrantis picked up their first three ewes. Now, they own more than 35 ewes, and their ice cream can be found in local establishments such as New Frontiers, Nature’s Touch or McPhee’s Grill, among others.
Negranti plans to continue growing her creamery, doubling her flock every year and expanding the flavor choices, she said.
In the meantime, the 2012 Farmer of the Year award is an indication that she made the right choice leaving her desk for the farm, she said.
“It’s just reassuring that we’re doing the right thing and we’re moving in the right direction,” Negranti said.
Negranti was selected for the award because of her unique vision and commitment to local and sustainable agricultural practices, CFS director Hunter Francis said.
The award was created last year by the Center as a way to honor Cal Poly graduates who are both innovative and committed to sustainability — two criteria that Negranti fit well, Francis said.
“It’s just wonderful,” Francis said. “She has some creative flavors and she sources her ingredients locally at farmers’ markets.”
Negranti’s ice cream is also appealing because of its rarity, Francis said.
“You don’t find sheep milk ice cream that often,” Francis said.
In addition to producing a quality product, Negranti has a unique tale about how she became a dairy farmer.
CFS also wants to honor a young graduate who has an inspirational story that current students can look up to, Francis said. Negranti’s journey from office to farmhouse fits that bill, Francis said.
Finally, CFS chooses to honor a younger graduate involved in agriculture or natural resource management as a way to help give them some publicity, Francis said.
“It helps let the community know what they’re doing,” Francis said.
To celebrate, Negranti’s ice cream was served as the dessert at last weekend’s Taste of the Future event at Hearst Ranch. Negranti’s ice cream was incorporated into a dish along with fruit from Cal Poly, Francis said.
Negranti’s former professors are also proud of her achievements. Agricultural communications professor Scott Vernon said he’s not surprised to see Negranti being honored for her hard work and “independent streak.”
“Alexis is an industrious young lady who herself is very creative,” Vernon said.
As for Negranti’s product, Vernon is a huge fan, he said.
“It’s phenomenal,” Vernon said. “Her biggest problem right now is that she can’t make enough of it.”