For months, Mark Haley of Jarrettsville had been driving past the "coming soon" sign on Route 543 in Bel Air, waiting for the new ice cream shop to open.
Finally, on Thursday, he was able to step inside the newly opened Broom's Bloom Creamery and order a waffle cone filled with rich pecan brittle ice cream.
Haley, who declared the ice cream "as good as Ben and Jerry's" joined other customers, including Gloria Montague of Bel Air and Elmer Smith of Fallston, who were enjoying scoops during the shop's second day of business.
Montague ordered a scoop of vanilla to go but ate a spoonful before she left. "Very good," she said. "It's very tasty, even in the cold weather. I definitely will be back."
December might not seem like the normal time to open an ice cream shop, but Broom's Bloom Creamery is not a normal ice cream shop.
Its ice cream is made on premises, using milk from the Broom's Bloom Dairy's cows, which are visible through a window of the shop and are fed a diet free of growth hormones. The farm has about 70 milking cows, plus 50 heifers that are too young to milk, said Kate Dallam, who owns the farm with her husband, David.
The Broom's Bloom property, named for the area's Colonial land grant, has been in the Dallam family since 1726 and has been a dairy farm since 1996. A few years earlier, Kate Dallam said, the family sold the property's development rights to the county, in effect promising to preserve the land's agricultural heritage.
The Dallams then began making cheeses, ice cream and pork sausage, which they sold at farmers markets in Baltimore, Towson and Bel Air.
The store gives the Dallams a permanent venue for their products and provides financial ballast against the up-and-down price of milk, which they sell to the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative for prices that swing from $11 to $18 per 100 pounds (11.63 gallons), Dallam said.
"The store isn't our salvation," said Dallam. "It's just helping us."
On Thursday, the mood inside the sunny ice cream shop was jovial. Bluegrass music played, and several customers congratulated and hugged Dallam, who was wearing ceramic black-and-white cow earrings.
"It's been a steady flow of customers," Dallam said. "It's been very nice."
Ground was broken for the shop in March, but an occupancy permit wasn't granted until last week - which is why the store opened this month.
The creamery, built by friends and relatives, is more of an upscale cafe than an ice cream stand. A beautiful, rough-edged wood counter holds locally baked goods, including muffins and cherry pie. A table underneath a window holds a pot of coffee and ceramic mugs. Paintings of cows adorn the walls, and window treatments show a farm scene. A chalkboard lists the flavors of the day.
One wall is dominated by refrigerator cases which hold cheddar cheese and pork sausage made on the farm, as well as lamb from the Woolsey Farm in Churchville and free-range Andy's Eggs from Fallston.
Dallam grew up on the Woolsey Farm, which is owned by her family, the Umbargers, who purchased it from the Woolsey family in 1913. It was a dairy farm until the late 1980s, when its focus was changed to sheep and lamb.
A year ago, Dallam attended an intense, four-day ice-cream-making course at the University of Wisconsin. In the spring, she learned about retail sales at a Pennsylvania State University program.
Both courses were funded by Harford County, which gave her about $750 under its agricultural and technical grant training program, said John Sullivan, agriculture coordinator in the county's Office of Economic Development.
The grant is open to any farmer in the county seeking training in a technical aspect of agricultural, including ice cream making.
Also making the ice cream parlor possible was a zoning change about six years ago, which allowed some retail businesses to open on agricultural land, as long as the products have a connection to the farm, Sullivan said. To limit development, the regulations call for structures with fewer than 30 seats.
Another Harford County farm, Hawks Hill Creamery in Street, is also planning to open an ice cream shop.
Kim Galbreath, who owns the farm with her husband, Allen, received the same county grant and attended the ice cream-making and business classes with Dallam. She has been selling cheese and soft-serve ice cream at events and farmers markets, but she's waiting for a bank loan before she begins construction of the store.
"As a dairy farm, we've lost so much money in the past few years," she said.
Dallam said she's not worried that the Galbreaths will eat into her ice cream sales. "There are so few dairy farmers left in Harford County," she said, adding that she hopes more of them find ways to expand their business through retail sales.
"I think the store will enable us to stay farming in this location," she said.
The Broom's Bloom Creamery, at 1700 S. Fountain Green Road in Bel Air, is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.; and from noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 410-399-COWS or go to www.bbdairy.com.