By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Oct 07, 2005 at 5:18 AM

{image1}It's a fair distance from Milwaukee's Outpost Natural Foods to Suzanne Sebion-Huber's farm in Vernon County. It's even farther to Dubai in the Middle East, but Sibby's ice cream is cool in all those places.

Sebion-Huber, owner of Sibby's Premium Organic Ice Cream, makes her product right on her farm in Vernon County, in the southwest part of the state.

The Outpost was one of the first places to test Sibby's, which comes in vanilla and chocolate. "It really was a key place for me when I was first getting started," Sebion-Huber says of the Milwaukee coop. "They are a great coop and helped get the product established."

Dubai's connection started last year when Sebion-Huber, whose nickname is Sibby, linked up with Nils El Accad, who owns Organic Foods and Café in Dubai and distributes American food products through the Al Accad group in that Middle East area of the world.

"We met at a trade show in California in April 2004," Sebion-Huber explained. "I knew nothing about Dubai. I looked into it and found out that Tiger Woods plays golf there, and Star Jones got married there. Other celebrities have homes there.

"I wasn't in a position to say no to anybody. So, we shipped our first order of 300 pints in January 2005."

That has led to another order of 1,000 pints, and who knows from there. "The mission of Nils is to support small, high-quality food makers and help get their products into Dubai and elsewhere. They loved our ice cream. I guess we're the first to have organic ice cream in Dubai," Sebion-Huber said.

{image2}Dubai is one of the richest countries in the world. One travel writer calls it, "rich, lavish and abfab."

It's a long way from Esofea to Dubai, Sebion-Huber has learned. "I ship the product to New Jersey the day after we make it here," she said. "It gets to Dubai in about five weeks, which isn't too bad. It's kept cold during that time."

Sebion-Huber admits she never saw the Middle East as part of her market when she first started Sibby's. After 19 years with UPS, she wanted a change. In 1989, she had restored what had been a family homestead farm, established first in 1856, and had been thinking about ways to make it self-sustaining for a while.

After getting hurt in the stock market crisis like so many others, her dreams had to become reality. "It kind of found me because of circumstances," Sebion-Huber said. "I would look at this area next to the old barn and wonder what I could do. I thought of everything from organic farming to growing pot...for the medicinal market, of course."

While talking with a friend, Sebion-Huber came up with the idea of ice cream. She took a small business course at UW-La Crosse, and struck a deal with Tim O'Connor, who owned a small dairy in Viroqua at the time. Sibby's would be born at that dairy.

Sebion-Huber also consulted Robert Bradley, a retired University of Wisconsin dairy professor. "Bob was a key. He knew so much about ice cream and shared it with me," she said.

The ice cream was test marketed at Outpost and in Madison in 2001. Blooming Prairie Distribution was the first to distribute it.

Sebion-Huber made the ice cream in Viroqua until that dairy closed. She then took most of 2003 off to build the current factory right on her farm. Production started up again in 2004.

Her husband, Tom, and sons, Ross and Joe, help out in the process. Sibby's factory is running at around 4,000 pints every three weeks and is capable of producing up to 80,000 pints a week. If the people in Dubai and elsewhere really like the stuff, Sibby will hire some employees.

Sebion-Huber gets her cream from Organic Valley, the highly successful organic co-op in nearby La Farge. Egg yolks also come from local farmers.

A couple other ingredients come from much farther away - vanilla extract from Madagascar and cocoa from Africa. All ingredients are organic, and Sebion-Huber's farm is certified organic.

Vernon County has around 150 organic farms, as well as Organic Valley coop. So, Sebion-Huber's product fits right in with that initiative.

"I feel passionate about the land, the organic movement, the environment," Sebion-Huber said. "The consumer gets this nice, clean food. The farmer who's producing the ingredients gets a premium price for his product. The dairy industry and the environment are better because of it."

Sibby's is an example of many specialty foods, ranging from ice cream to gourmet cheese to wine and beer made in Wisconsin and exported around the world. Sebion-Huber is developing an e-commerce store through the Department of Commerce's Sibby's own Web site is

Sibby's also is listed among the companies in Something Special from Wisconsin and among the Wisconsin Artisan and Farmstead Dairy directory.

The business has attracted media attention recently. The public radio show, Coulee Region Connections, featured it in July. CNN also recently did a story on it.

Sibby's also was featured in the May issue of Grocery Headquarters, a respected trade magazine, and mix, a Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops publication.

"It's been great," Sebion-Huber said. "I've been getting hundreds of emails. We don't have a big marketing budget, so the publicity helps.

"I've learned so much in four years, from how to make organic ice cream to how to export to Dubai. It's hard work, but you just keep learning and growing."

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.