CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Marilyn Grossman has the kind of career that doesn't come with a blueprint: Along with her husband, Brad, she raises Saanen dairy goats, in part for their protein-rich milk, but mostly so the milk can be turned into natural, hand-crafted soaps they say are especially beneficial for people with allergies.
She spends her days at home, aka Kickadee Hill Farm, a name that comes from the "gleeful way a goat will run and jump into the air, tossing her head and kicking all four legs into the air at once," Marilyn explained.
There is plenty of joy in what she does, but there is also plenty of hard work. At the farm — near Elkview, about five miles north of Charleston — she takes care of her animals and rarely gets away.
"It's hard to find a farm sitter," she said.
But she wouldn't have it any other way. It's a simple existence, she said, where she is "more connected to the earth" and has "a sense of birth and death and the realities of life."
"There are a lot of positive things to living on a farm. It keeps you connected to the land. It teaches you that what you put into something is what you get out of it."
She puts in time, hard work and love, and in return, she gets appreciation and contentment.
"Every day of my life is bookended with creatures that are sweet. It's nice to have that sweetness in your life from creatures that appreciate the smallest things."
Marilyn and Brad, a chemical engineer at Dow Chemical, raise the pure-white breed goats — the largest of the dairy breeds — on their 100-acre farm. Originally from the mountains of Europe, Saanens average 32 inches in height and weigh about 200 pounds, she said.
Pointing to one of the goats, she noted, "You have to take care of her if you want a gallon and a half of milk a day. You've got to feed them twice a day, every day. You've got to milk them whether it's your birthday or Christmas. It doesn't matter what day it is. This is what you do every day."
Some of the milk is used for their personal use — the Grossmans haven't had cow's milk in more than 30 years — but West Virginia law prohibits selling the milk for human consumption. It's primarily used as the main ingredient for Appalachian Milk Soap, which operates out of a new facility in Cross Lanes.
It's a new take on the farm-to-table market trend that's connecting people with the land and its produce.
"Goat milk soap is especially good for people with sensitive skin," said Mark Burdette, marketing director for Appalachian Milk Soap. "The pH level in goat milk is the closest to that in humans. Our formulations of essential oils, oatmeal and other ingredients keep people coming back."
Burdette and Linda Smith Meadows, who actually handcrafts the soap, are busy promoting their hypoallergenic products during the summer months at fairs and festivals and, most recently, at select Kanawha County libraries during its Summer Library Club series.
"All summer long, we've been doing events about farming and food-to-table," said Julie Spiegler of the Cross Lanes branch. "Our reading list and story time at the library has all been farm related."
Appalachian Milk Soap provided a video presentation and demonstration — complete with a real goat — recently for a room packed with children at the Cross Lanes library.
During the winter months, they make more than 20 fragrances of soap using goat milk from Kickadee Hill Farm, using what Meadows called an "ancient cold process method" to manufacture their soaps with non-GMO (non-genetically modified organism) coconut oil, Shea butter, emu oil, soybean oil, lye and, of course, goat milk.
They pour the liquid into molds where is sets for two days before it is solid enough to be cut. Afterward, it cures for eight weeks before it is ready for packaging and sale, Meadows said.
"Goats are seasonal breeders — having babies from March to June — and are most productive in the summer months," Grossman explained. "In the winter, they are pregnant and not milking."
With only four milking this summer, they produce about six gallons a day, she said. "That's enough to keep Appalachian Milk Soap going."
Because the milking and manufacturing seasons occur during opposite times of the year, both businesses have to be creative and preserve the milk by freezing it.
"Soon as I milk, I take it in the house and I run it through a filter, then I put it into jugs and I float it in ice water to chill it quickly," she explained. "When it's chilled, I put it in the freezer. Linda comes out and picks up the milk" — about 25 gallons at a time — "and puts it in big freezers for storage."
For the Grossmans, who also raise and sell champion goats at prices of up to $1,000 each, it's a very different ballgame from their days in Pennsylvania. There they had a raw milk dairy license and sold not only the raw goat's milk but also milk products like cheese and fudge.
Under the stricter West Virginia law, Meadows was careful to research and verify the legality of using raw milk in her soap manufacturing process. It was specified in a letter she received from the state Department of Agriculture, which stipulated that "as long as your soap is labeled for cleansing only, it is lawful for you to purchase raw milk from local dairy cow or goat milk producers."
Meadows and Grossman, friends for more than 20 years, are proud of the work they do providing natural products and maintaining a connection to their agricultural heritage.
For more information about Saanen goats, contact Kickadee Hill Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach Appalachian Milk Soap for information on retail and Internet sales at email@example.com.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com