The seed was planted, inadvertently, in 2016.
Peter Treiber Jr. was in Williamsburg, hanging out at a friend’s apartment. He was visiting from his new home on the North Fork, where he was embarking on a career running Treiber Farms in Peconic alongside his father, Peter Treiber Sr., and other family members.
The younger Treiber, 31, lived in Brooklyn for six years prior to working on the farm, and was still making frequent trips back to visit friends, bringing with him recently harvested bounty. At that particular get-together, he was introduced to Ben Van Leeuwen, who lived nearby.
In 2008, Van Leeuwen and his family had started making artisan ice cream. The company offers both traditional and vegan flavor options, and makes all of its ice cream in Greenpoint, initially selling it out of ice cream trucks in Brooklyn before expanding into other neighborhoods in New York City and southern California.
The conversation about their livelihoods developed into talks of a possible partnership, although nothing was set in stone that day. Two years later, another mutual friend reintroduced them, urging them to partner up on an ice cream flavor.
Last summer, members of the Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream team took a trip out to tour the farm, and before long a new flavor was created using Treiber Farm berries: Blackberry Danish. The first collaboration in 2018 was so successful they teamed up again this year. Van Leeuwen is currently offering another Treiber Farms inspired flavor, its vegan “Ice Cream For Breakfast.” Made with several varieties of Treiber Farms raspberries that vary in the color, the flavor combined a brown sugar and cinnamon oat milk ice cream with maple raspberry swirls and crumbles of Van Leeuwen’s own oat-cranberry breakfast cookie.
“For this one, with the start of school and the fall season, people are starting to do warm breakfast and we were thinking of something that could be a fun play on that,” said Ellie Zitsman, the head of research and development for Van Leeuwen. “The berries added a really beautiful look and taste to the oat milk ice cream.”
Van Leeuwen has been offering cashew milk-based ice cream for its vegan options, but lately has been putting extra focus into oat-milk based flavors, responding to requests for nut-free offerings. She added that an extra bonus of the oat-milk flavors is increased sustainability, because the oats they source are grown in North America.
“It turned out that the way [Treiber Farm was] farming fit our ethos for how we look for ingredients as well,” Zitsman said. “We want to be as sustainable and organic as possible, and the fact that they are so close was really nice. We try to get our products locally but it’s not something we always get to do.”
Much like Van Leeuwen, Treiber Farms is still a young and growing enterprise. Peter Treiber Sr. started the farm upon retirement in 2014, because he was not the type to become obsessed with golf or turn into a snowbird, according to his son. Fruit trees and berries have been the initial focus, but the farm produces a wide variety of produce as well as eggs and meat.
Treiber Jr. made farming his full-time occupation in 2016. He has a background in carpentry and art, passions he still actively pursues, and studied history and anthropology in college, but said he was always interested in the food and farming industries.
“I just wanted to learn more about where my food came from and how to feed myself, and to get out of the city,” he said of moving east while also speaking about why farming has appealed to him. “I love to learn and I’m very curious about a lot of things.”
That thirst for knowledge has paid off so far for Treiber Jr., who seems to have found a like-minded business partner in Van Leeuwen.
“It was a good story for everybody,” Treiber Jr. said. “Ultimately, for us and the scale that we’re at, it’s great to move an entire crop to one person and get the price you want. Especially with the berries, to pick them fresh and freeze them the same day and move them all at once is huge, because they’re probably the least shelf stable of any crop we grow.”
Van Leeuwen is one of three collaborations that have been big for a small farm. Treiber Farms also sells many of its botanicals to Matchbook Distilling Company in Greenport, and recently sold 200 pounds of blackberries to Greenport Harbor Brewery for a blackberry ale the brewery is making.
“These bigger partnerships are huge for us,” he added. “It’s fun to collaborate and see what people can do with the product we put so much effort into.”
Of course, Treiber Jr. may be a biased reviewer, but he said the flavor is “absolutely delicious,” and added that knowing people on the other side of the country are sampling his berries has been a gratifying experience as well, particularly when he’s tagged in photos on social media showing people with a scoop of Van Leeuwen ice cream with Treiber Farms berries in California.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” he said. “It makes you feel like, what else is possible?”
As far as the partnership with Van Leeuwen, the possibilities are still being actively explored. Zitsman said they are talking about doing an annual flavor around the harvest schedule, and even having specific rows of crops dedicated to Van Leeuwen, with posted signs indicating the partnership, and having Van Leeuwen team members make a visit to the farm to assist in those plantings.
“It’s really nice when we can support small, local, growing businesses, especially when they are doing it the right way,” she said.
Treiber Jr. added that the farm is growing in plenty of other ways as well, with plans to look for similar partnerships, while also doing more events at the farm in the upcoming year and putting energy into selling direct to consumers and “getting the products out of the field and in front of people.”
For now, Treiber Jr. is enjoying the fruits — in ice cream form — of what he says is a harmonious relationship between like-minded business partners, who found each other, fittingly, in the most organic of ways.
“You put in the energy and effort and then you end up in the place where you want to be, working with the people you want to work with,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream has several locations, visit vanleeuwenicecream.com to find out where to try.