Finance and entrepreneurship major Jessye Vanden Akker ’24 remembers her first job as a second grader cleaning tables at her family’s ice cream shop at West End Creamery, in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. Located on 50 acres of rolling land in the historic Blackstone River Valley, West End Creamery is rooted in five generations of Vanden Akker’s family, who emigrated to Whitinsville from the Netherlands and began cultivating the land on the west side of town at the turn of the 20th century.

For decades, West End Dairy produced fresh milk and cream delivered right to customers’ doors. The farm transitioned to wholesale production in 1968 and sold milk until 1987, when it closed its doors as a dairy farm. In 1999, Vanden Akker’s parents Greg and Becky, also Calvin alumni, opened West End Creamery, an ice cream shop. Over the years, they expanded the family business, gradually adding a miniature golf course, jump pillows, and, more recently, a corn maze and fall festival. They also grow hay, pumpkins, and feed corn.

As her parents near retirement, Vanden Akker and her two sisters plan to gradually assume responsibility for the farm. Vanden Akker says each woman brings unique skill sets and interests to the family business, from managing operations to overseeing agriculture and animals. After graduation, Vanden Akker will step in to manage the farm’s finances, and she and her sisters have plans to continue to expand West End’s popular agritourism offerings.

During her fall entrepreneurship class in the Calvin University School of Business, in partnership with The Calvin Startup Garage, Vanden Akker developed a business plan for a new attraction at West End Creamery: Bailey’s Blooms, a pick-your-own sunflower field and maze, with greenhouses designed as event venues. Named after the family’s beloved golden retriever, Bailey’s Blooms will hold an annual flower festival with plenty of beautiful spots for photo opportunities and will keep West End’s expanding and loyal customer base returning three seasons a year.

Vanden Akker says Calvin’s entrepreneurship class and Calvin Startup Garage surrounded her with a community of like-minded peers who enjoy the challenge of thinking through a business plan from start to finish. “They’re go-getters, ideas enthusiasts, who focus on running and building a whole business, not just one aspect of a business,” she says.

Vanden Akker also brought a unique perspective to the Startup community. “I grew up seeing what worked and didn’t work in a small business,” she says.

Though she plans to enjoy her final semester at Calvin and hopes to challenge the current women’s track and field triple jump record (held by a fellow Whitinsville native) this spring, Vanden Akker also eagerly anticipates her return to her hometown. “I don’t think I would have studied finance if I wasn’t planning to come back to the farm. I don’t want to be stuck in an office. I’ll be at my desk in the morning, but there will be so many other things I get to do, like working outside or interacting with customers.”

Vanden Akker plans to roll out Bailey’s Blooms in phases over the next two to three years, though she says she and her family have been discussing her idea for a while. As with every business expansion at West End Creamery, bringing Bailey’s Blooms to the farm is mission focused. According to Vanden Akker, she and her family want to continue sharing the beauty of their land with the surrounding community and beyond. “West End used to be a local destination, but people come from all over Massachusetts now. We love bringing families to the farm to experience the outdoors. We love that we can create that space for people to hang out and play together.”

On a typical summer or fall afternoon, there’s no doubt families are doing just that, with kids of all ages and their grown-ups enjoying cool treats and farm-themed entertainment. As Vanden Akker looks to her future, she pictures herself here, alongside her sisters, putting her creative energy and Calvin education to work to continue their family’s legacy.