From Cheese to Soap—A Tour of Scotch Hill Farm
Scotch Hill Farm has been an active Community Supported Agriculture member for fifteen years
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But CSA farms are not just about local business and they're not just about eating healthy. The fertilizer used in nonorganic farming takes a toll on the environment. Chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia require tremendous pressure and energy intensive processes to produce.
"Regardless of what it does to the soil, it's a reason that our natural gas reserves are disappearing so fast," Tony says.
For the past three years, the Ends have worked toward an organic certification from Nature's International Certification Services in Viroqua. The fields will become certified this year, meaning that the Ends practice crop rotation and do not use chemical fertilizer, genetically modified seeds, pesticides or herbicides in their crops. Instead, the soap-making herd of goats naturally fertilizes the fields.
"We really wanted to make livestock work because then it's an on-site means of naturally producing nitrogen rather than a chemical process and a factory process and a mass scale process," Tony says.
The goats are expensive, but the Ends mitigate the cost by using them for more than fertilizer.
The Goat Soap
Ten years ago, the Ends received a bar of goats' milk soap from Dela's mother as a souvenir from a trip to North Carolina. The Ends were still looking for a means to justify the time and expense of having livestock, and the novelty gift was enough to inspire the Ends.
"Tony goes, 'Wow this is a great idea, so figure out how to do it.' So I went to the library and researched and figured it out," Dela said. The soap business was born.
After the first year's out-of-the-kitchen soap business totaled $800, Tony applied for a small business innovation research grant that helped improve the production process. The soap business jumped to $10,000 that year. When they received a second grant, Dela formed a soap makers' guild and taught ten other farms how to make the soap. The resulting increase in sales funded the construction of a new soap factory off of the machine shed. Twenty-five thousand dollars in soap each year became a bit much for the kitchen.
Now, the soap accounts for nearly a third of the family's yearly income. Last year, they sold nearly eight thousand bars at farmers' markets, to CSA subscribers and through mail orders. Despite the escalating success of Scotch Hill soap, the Ends do not sell their line at the Dane County Farmers' Market due to a three-year waiting list and because the market requires vendors to use their own oil in production. The oil is one of the few ingredients that the do-it-yourself couple doesn't produce at Scotch Hill.
Tony's ambition to change that can be seen in the glint in his eyes as he remembers a farmer he once met that produced his own oil.
"He had an old silo where he augured his sunflowers into big hoppers. He just turned the press on in the morning, and it would draw the sunflowers down and a machine would press the oil and he collected the oil every night." He adds that the farmer heated his house and sold the leftover protein mash to a nearby farmer as feed supplement.
Tony has it all planned out. Sell the sunflower seeds to bird food maker and feed the leftovers to those goats. Then the Ends will have their own oil for soap making.
"Oh, we have so much time," Dela says jokingly of the plan. She looks at Tony as if he's crazy, but the same ambition that led the couple here can be seen sparkling in her own eyes as she contemplates the idea.
Scotch Hill Farm
Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition