By Doug Graves
LEXINGTON, Ky. – When it was announced last month that Benjamin Williams was the newly elected Kentucky FFA president, a deafening roar erupted inside Central Bank Center in Lexington. That applause and ovation that Williams received lasted more than 10 minutes.
Even a week after he was awarded Kentucky FFA’s top honor, his email in-box, Facebook page and Instagram networking service were filled to capacity with congratulatory remarks.
“After a week of recoupling and reflecting from the 93rd National FFA Convention, I cannot express how blessed I am to be part of such an amazing organization,” Williams said. “I continue to grow and learn from every FFA event that I attend and I am grateful for all the amazing leadership that continues to motivate and inspire FFA members like me.”
Williams also credits his two older brothers for creating a path for him. His older brother, Martin, was the 2017-2018 Kentucky FFA state president. Larkin was a regional finalist for the Star Farmer award.
“I guess it’s safe to say I had two older brothers to look up to and follow in their footsteps,” Williams said. “My freshman year in high school I was a typical chapter member. My sophomore year I became a committee chairman and by the time I was a junior I became chapter president at Thomas Nelson High School. My senior year I became co-president for the Nelson County Schools.”
But what really propelled him to success, he said, was his Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). An SAE is a structured experiential and work-based learning opportunity in school-based agriculture, food, and natural resources programs to extend beyond the classroom. An SAE takes place in a setting outside of regular school hours in order to develop an individual student’s industry and career-based competencies.
Williams, a freshman in high school at the time, wanted to do something along the ice cream line and felt this project would give him a good start through FFA.
“I wanted to do something different for my SAE as well as to help the dairy industry and the Kentucky Proud program,” Williams said.
His SAE was an Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Project that he started in 2018. His idea was to sell Kentucky Proud dairy products sourced from Chaney’s Dairy Barn in Bowling Green, Ky. He also wanted to sell Ale 8 from Winchester, Ky.
Ice cream was his main thrust. To be sold from a truck, not a store.
“I was looking for a creative way to advocate for the dairy industry and to help myself at the same time,” Williams said. “I don’t live on a dairy farm, but my reason for starting an ice cream business is in 2017, Walmart decided to build its own dairy processing plant in Indiana rather than continue to buy milk from Dean Foods, which had contracts with several Nelson County dairymen who have gone out of business. That move hurt a bunch of dairies in Kentucky and surrounding states. On top of that I read where Kentucky dropped from 1,200 dairies to 500 dairies in just one year. I wanted to do something to support the dairy industry.”
Intent in making his business venture happen, Williams went to a junk yard near Bardstown, Ky., and bought a 1989 panel truck for $1,000. He then took out a $10,000 loan to help refurbish the dilapidated vehicle.
“We had to renovate the whole inside. It’s basically like we recycled the truck.”
He had a sign company wrap the truck with a black and white dairy cow theme with pastel pink trim. He added his own personalized logo. With remaining money, he purchased freezers, a refrigerator and a few sinks. He cut a window in the side of the truck.
Williams had to get business licenses from Bardstown and Bloomfield, a state license and a food permit from the Nelson County Health Department.
That first year, his business venture landed him in the Top 5 for the State Star in Agribusiness. He named that business Ben’s Jammin’ Ice Cream & Snacks. He now uses the money he earns to pay for college. He plans on operating the truck through his college years.
Williams was raised on a farm in Whitesville, Ky. The family now resides in Bloomfield, Ky. And while they used to raise red Angus beef, they now tend to Tennessee Walking Horses.
While many relatives and close friends think of Williams as being the next ice cream entrepreneur, he has other ambitions. This fall he will attend the University of Kentucky, where he will major in agriculture economics and minor in animal science and business management. In the end, he said, he hopes to work for Kentucky Farm Bureau, where he will specialize in insurance.