Six years ago, when Annette Gast and her two daughters moved to a home on five acres in the Harvard countryside, one of her daughters commented, “When you live on a farm, you need animals.”
Gast complied, and the choice of two nanny goats they found on Craigslist permanently affected the path of their lives, leading them to a thriving family business.
“I became an instant farmer,” said Gast, who set out to learn everything she could about goats and the excess milk they were getting from milking the goats.
She discovered the benefits of goat’s milk soap and decided to try her hand at making some. Self-taught, Gast said, “I started out making not-so-good soap, and a lot of it.”
But she found this was the best way to learn, forcing her to gain a deeper understanding of what she was doing.
“Research and perfection is a good way to make the finest product,” she said. Once she perfected her product, she launched Silver Prairie Farm Natural Soap Company.
The labor she and her daughters, Alexandria, 16, and Pernille, 14, put into their products shows in their popularity. Over the past four years, they have produced 15,000 soaps annually, selling them at home shows, fairs, craft shows, farmers markets and shops. They are looking forward to opening their first retail location Feb. 1 in Woodstock.
The store will be located at 124 Cass St. in the space formerly occupied by Jaci’s Cookies. They will carry a full line of their products including goat milk soaps, coconut milk and shea butter soap, natural shampoo soaps, shaving soaps, body cream, body butter, body sprays, face and sugar scrubs, lotion bars, chap sticks and natural bug spray. They even have soap specially formulated for dogs and horses.
The cold process used for making soap is a chemical process of mixing oils with a water base and then molding the soaps in unique shapes. Using goat milk instead of water creates a creamier soap that is mild and moisturizing and ideal for humans since goats have a pH level that is very similar to humans.
In addition to serving as a retail outlet for their products, the Woodstock location will provide space for production of their soaps. Gast said the new space will allow them to further expand their product line. As an advocate of local business, she also hopes to have some space for guest artisans.
“We’ve wanted a store for a while,” said 14-year-old Pernille Gast, who, helps care for the goats and the other animals on the farm.
“My daughters are integral to the business,” Annette Gast said of her daughters, who not only help on the farm but are also her best salespeople at the shows and fairs.
All the goat milk products are made from the Gast family’s herd of Oberhasli and Alpine goats, raised on organic pasture. Both Gast’s daughters are responsible for the care of the animals; a responsibility they have taken to new levels. They began exhibiting their goats at the McHenry County Fair as 4-H members. By studying the animals and practicing selective breeding they’ve improved their herd year-by-year, successfully developing a show herd.
As she faces the challenges of homeschooling her high school-level daughters, Annette Gast said, “We’ve had a wonderful opportunity to incorporate the farm into their schooling.”
Beyond providing an education in animal husbandry, genetics and business, Pernille Gast summed up her education on the farm by saying, “Goats give you a lot of character.”