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The Story of Ben & Jerry

Doleful cows standing amid a bright green meadow on Ben & Jerry's ice cream pints have almost become a symbol for Vermont, but Ben & Jerry's cows -- actually, they're Vermont artist Woody Jackson's cows -- also symbolize friendly capitalism ("hippie capitalism," as some prefer).

The founding of the company is a legend in business circles. Two friends from Long Island, New York, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, started the company in Burlington in 1978 with $12,000 and a few mail-order lessons in ice-cream making. The pair experimented with flavor samples obtained free from salesmen, and sold their product out of an old downtown gas station. Embracing the outlook that work should be fun, they gave away free ice cream at community events, staged outdoor films in summer, and plowed profits back into the local community. Their free-spirited approach, along with the exceptional quality of their product, built a hugely successful corporation.

While competition from other gourmet ice-cream makers, and a widespread desire to cut back on fat consumption, have both made it tougher to have fun and turn a profit, Ben and Jerry are still at it, expanding their manufacturing plants outside New England and concocting new products. Though Ben and Jerry sold their interest to a huge multinational food concern -- a move that raised not a few eyebrows among its grass-roots investors -- the company's heart and soul (and manufacturing) remain squarely in Vermont.

The main factory in Waterbury may be one of Vermont's most popular tourist attractions. The plant is located about a mile north of I-89 on Route 100, and the grounds have a festival marketplace feel to them, despite the fact that there's no festival and no marketplace. During summer season, crowds mill about waiting for the 30-minute factory tours. Tours are first-come, first-served, and run at least every 30 minutes from 9am to 9pm in July and August (shorter hours in the off season, but always open at least 9am-5pm); afternoon tours fill up quickly, so get there early to avoid a long wait.

Once you've got your ticket, browse the small ice-cream museum (learn the long, strange history of Cherry Garcia), buy a cone of your favorite flavor at the scoop shop, or lounge along the promenade, which is scattered with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables. Tours are $3 for adults, $2 for seniors, and free for children 11 and under. There's also a package deal where you get a tour, a T-shirt, and a pint of the good stuff for $20.

Kids can enjoy the "Stairway to Heaven," which leads to a playground, and a "Cow-Viewing Area," which is self-explanatory. The tours are informative and fun, and conclude with a sample of the day's featured product. For more information, call tel. 866/BJTOURS or 802/882-1240.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.