Amy McIntire joins Romy for an update on the goat farm. Amy shares how the business has evolved from just making soaps and lotions to conservation ‘scaping’. Join in to learn how she is putting ‘Kids on the Bus’ in this great catch up. Great music from another Detroit artist at the end.
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Romy: Thanks for tuning into this episode on City Girls Farm. This is Romy, and I am your host for this episode. We have lots of good stuff for you here. Our main guest is Amy McIntyre of City Girls Farm; she is one of the owners with her husband, John. We did a fun interview back in Season 1, and this is a great update! They went from three goats to eleven! One of the most interesting developments you will hear about is the new service line, goat scaping!
But first, let’s check out our Fun Fuel with Jentzen.
Jentzen: Goats were introduced to North America in the 16th century by Spanish colonists. For hundreds of years the Spanish goat was a source of milk and meat, but goats did not become an agricultural commodity the way sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens did. Many of the original Spanish goats became feral and populating parts of what would become the United States. For most of United States history, dairy goats were utilized by small family farms as a personal source of milk cheese.
In the early 1930s goat milk started to find a market as an alternative dairy product for those who had allergies to cows' milk. In the 1970s the goat became a perfect farm animal for homesteaders who embraced sustainable agricultural practices: Goats do not take take up as space or require as much feed as cattle. By the 1980s, goat milk and goat cheeses were sought by connoisseurs as gourmet items.
The dairy goat industry has continued steady growth since the 1980s. As of 2013, more than 30,000 farms in the country raise milk goats. In addition to a variety of different cheeses, goat milk is used to make yogurt and even ice cream, and it often serves as feed for other animals.
Romy: Thank you, Jentzen. Let’s keep on rollin’ with goats and jump right over to my conversation with Amy at the Farm.
Romy: Let's catch up. We interviewed you ... Gosh, now that was season one that we interviewed you.
Amy: It was 2015, wasn't it?
Romy: Yeah, and so you had the three goats at the time when I came to your shop. I wanted to catch up because you've gone through all of this expansion of your services and ... so let's start. We know you changed your name from City Girls Soap to City Girls ... is it Farm, Amy?
Amy: Yes, and it was more of a re-branding. It was because of City Girl Soap, obviously, it's like, "Oh, bath and body products for the home," and then we realized as we were thinking about expanding and what else we could do using all these goats, which we now have 11 ...
Amy: We were talking about after we had done our internship with the kids and everything and we thought, "You know, if we re-brand to City Girls Farm and then City Girls Soap becomes a subsidiary of it, then City Girls Farm is like a one-stop shop where you can get to all things City Girl." That's kind of what we started thinking about early in 2016 and then really got it going in like third quarter 2016.
Romy: Nice. Do you feel that that better captures the essence of what you're doing now?
Amy: Oh, absolutely. 100%. It's ... because we always wanted to be so much more than just soap and lotion and that was the wonderful thing that allowed us to get our foot in the door and to start showing the way you can use agriculture as a viable industry outside of traditionally what we think of it as being. To be a farm ... I mean, farms were the gathering places of the community. When the United States was so agrarian and it kind of, being in Pontiac, by being City Girls Farm, it kind of brings it back to gathering place. Businesses run out of the gathering place, but a place where people and children can come and learn about everything we're doing.
What we have to do in the first quarter of this year is actually complete the getting City Girl Soap to be under it. It goes to social media like our Facebook page has to become City Girls Farm, and how do we do that without losing our followers?
Amy: It's kind of tricky, but it's time-consuming but doable, easily doable.
Romy: Yeah, over time and ... I can get ... We've had some main changes here at Gen Grass Global and some merges of some of our sub-LLCs into one, and you have to release yourself, that sometimes people are just going to find you on an old Bloomberg or somewhere from six years ago, under the old one. I was getting annoyed, like, "This needs to be fixed," and I released that. It doesn't. It'll all turn out at the end.
Amy: Right. It will. It will.
Romy: Yeah, that's exciting, so three goats up to 11. Now I know some of them had babies, right? Tell me about how you went from three to 11. Did you purchase more or was it all from breeding?
Amy: No, so we had ... When we had first talked we had three, and then they had babies, I think. I've lost track of time. Anyways, we were at five, and then last year in late April of 2016 our two does kidded, which means they had their babies and we literally doubled, we like to say we doubled the goat population of Pontiac, Michigan in two days, because one of our does have twins and then our other doe, Winnie, had quadruplets.
Romy: Aw. Yeah, wow.
Amy: They were all named for the historical figures featured in the musical Hamilton this year. We literally have Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Hercules Mulligan and then Angelica and Eliza Schuyler and those are all the babies.
Romy: Oh my gosh, that's classic. That's so funny because weren't the first goats after ... Was it Footloose? The movie Footloose?
Amy: No. The first goats were Thor and Loki, so Norse gods, and then Iris and Ladybug, which are just happy girl goat names.
Romy: Oh, okay. I don't know where I got that, okay.
Amy: Oh, because we have Wren. Our big doe, Wren. That's the guy from Footloose, but it's also a bird.
Romy: That's right, okay, that's where I got it. I don't know where that got in my head. Okay. Well, I love it. How fun. Okay, and then I remember talking to you, it was not that long ago when you were starting to experiment with, "Gosh what else can I do with the guys, the male goats?" The girls, of course, can produce milk that you can make your products from, but then you found this other use for the male goats with this goat-scaping. Did you try some of that right? What ...
Amy: We actually did, so after ... It was very interesting because after the does had the babies, all of a sudden we had four males. What's interesting in animal husbandry or livestock farming, what have you, is that literally, the males have no value. We were texting people as the babies were being born and we said, "Oh, it's a boy, it's a boy, it's a boy, it's a boy." We had four boys, and then all of a sudden the two girls and people would text back, "Oh, I'm sorry it was a boy."
You're sitting there going, "Here's this adorable little animal that you helped be born," and the fine line between human and thinking they're cute and cuddly, and then farmer where you're sitting there going, "This is something that's going to eat, and I need to get a product from it, because ... or else it's just throwing money out the window to feed an animal that doesn't give you a product." My husband, John, said "Oh, well okay. Now we literally have enough goats where we can do trial segments of goat-scaping," where they go out and clear overgrown vacant lots, or we're really finding that there's interest in using them for a bio-remediation of invasive species, without pouring poison into our land which eventually goes into the water. You can use goats and sheep to do a pretty form of an aggressive invasive species eradication program.
Romy: Just in case, if you're not familiar with the terminology, what would be bio-remediation of invasive species?
Amy: It's a basically using animals to eat plants that aren't supposed to be in our state. For example, the state of Michigan, there are things that we see every day that isn't supposed to be here. There's a shrub called Autumn Olive, it's invasive to Michigan, and they can either put out something into the ground that kills other plants that are native to the state, or they can take the sunlight from plants that are native to the state. A biologically safe way to do it is using animals as opposed to chemicals. That's kind of what it is. The invasive species, sadly, there's a list as long as your arm of things that have been brought here, that aren't supposed to be here, which are killing what truly belongs in the state, historically.
Romy: Oh, nuts, okay. Well what a great alternative and then it gives you a way to feed them.
Amy: Exactly, and it's also community outreach. When we did a couple jobs in the city of Pontiac this summer, we always make sure we have some of the young goats with us because we encourage and invite the neighbors to come by with their children and with the grandchildren who have never been around these amazing creatures that are capable of doing so much but also just want to be scratched. It's a great way to ... It's like breaking the ice in your neighborhood. It's opening conversation through cuteness. It's pretty fun.
Romy: How did ... this might seem like such a silly question but ... I know where you're located and I know a lot about Pontiac. How do you keep the goats from running away? They're sort of a funny bunch.
Amy: Well, when they're working we have solar powered portable fencing.
Romy: Oh, okay.
Amy: Yeah. We have solar charged portable fencing that give a really nice shock. I unfortunately tested it by myself without meaning to, but that's how we keep them in. I can turn it off and on so if there are children that want to meet the goats ... Once they've gotten zapped once they learn to respect the perimeters. It's not like they're actively trying to get out. That's how any organization that does this ... This is a very, very popular method of controlling brush on the east and west coast and it's just not something that's used a lot in the mid-west yet. Then when they're on site in Pontiac, it's fenced in like a regular farm, and we actually acquired a livestock guardian dog last year named Gus, who protects all the animals at night.
Romy: Oh, wow. I love it. What were some of the comments from trying it last summer? Were they amazed? I guess one ... I want to know really were they amazed at how fast these goats cleared ... I'm amazed at that.
Amy: There was that, but I have to say too, there was also sometimes a sense of urgency, like, "Why are we not seeing this happen faster?" because of they actually ... They're browsers, so it's like at their big goat buffet, and they go from one plant to the other to the other, and if they see someone's of eating something, then they all zip over there. That's why ... I mean, it's really cute. We as humans are so used to ... We live in a world where it's, "I want it now, I want it now, it needs to happen now." This is a very effective but peaceful method of clearing land. You have to like ... It's like going on vacation where it takes a couple of days to decompress. Then all of a sudden you have a different life where you're just relaxed, and you just go with the flow, and it's the same with goat-scaping.
Once you realize that they will get the job done, but it's in a cyclical pattern, and it has longer-lasting effects than poison, people catch on to it, and there's definitely the whole movement in our world of trying to get away from using chemicals and know your farmer, know your food. It's not going away. It's an ideology I think that's going to stay with us as we move forward and so this fits in perfectly.
Romy: Yeah. I love this idea. They might stop and play.
Amy: Or at least sit down and let their food digest. They lay in the sun and then they get up and they start eating again. Yeah.
Romy: Yeah. That's exciting. It just takes a bit of learning. How dare we be so controlling, right?
Amy: Yeah, some things you just can't control.
Romy: Animals and humans, I just feel like ...
Romy: This is bad ... well that's exciting. We found a use for the guys if you will.
Amy: We did.
Romy: That they're a huge value to. Then what's the mix of the 11? Is there still four males or ...
Amy: I have to think. Okay, so it's Winnie, Iris, Sophie, Angelica, Eliza. Pardon me, six males, five females.
Romy: Okay. Things have got to be getting fun over there at your place.
Amy: You know, it is. It is fun, and it's sometimes, I mean, it's just been me still, and my husband works on the weekends with us. We've always known, in our life and when we started this company, that, you know ... we've always been here for our kids. Then as soon as the kids were gone, we're like, "Then we can literally just 190% do this." Our daughter is graduating in May from high school, and then we're going to sell our house, move to Pontiac, become a part of the community in which our business is., Then we think this is the point in which we can just watch all of this. There's enough interest out there that I'm actually not concerned. When I think about growing our business in this avenue, it just feels right, and we've worked really, really hard, so we're not doing this on just like, "Oh this will be fun." It's a lot of hard work, but I just think the timing, it's coming together perfectly.
Romy: Yeah. There's something ... You just hit on something that I have found out to be a real truth over the last, especially the last 12 months. I think this is especially true if you're working in any sort of under-resourced community where most of us who do social enterprise work, are working, in under-resourced communities. There's an element there of trust-building that you're going to be around for a little bit. It's the opposite of what I used to see. You got to come out, you got to get big to survive ... there's a little bit of the opposite, of building trust that you're real, you're truthful, you're going to try to work hard, that you're not going anywhere. There's a little bit of a respect thing that can take a few years to develop and you're definitely there.
It's so interesting that you just said that because that has never been more clear to me than most recently, but the truth of that ... It's not necessarily the big giant office or achieving the big vision that you once had, because that is always in play. You're always moving towards that, but there's the respect of your community that I think people forget to honor sometimes.
Amy: Well, I think there has to be that. I mean ... because these towns that have these cities that have suffered economic hardships at the hands of large companies that came in, and when the economy turned, they just bulldozed things over and they're gone. But the people can't leave, and they can't leave, or the won't leave, or it's their home. There is this innate protectiveness on their, part of the community, of, "Well, if you're coming in, you know, are you going to be a part of us or are you going to come in, build, and then leave?"
I think you have to, as a business, be respectful of that. I would never ... Part of it, it's always about ... That's why we say, "Through goats, anything is possible," just because it's the ice-breaker. It's the ability to chat and be like, "This is what we're doing," and then, you get the, "Oh, that's cool. It's happening in my city. Who would have ever thought we'd see this?" It's like, "Well, we're going to be here." I think it's important.
Romy: Yeah ... and when did City Girls start? Around 2012 was it that you started?
Amy: Yeah. We actually got picked up by some grocery stores in 2012. Yeah. Then had been, you know, got into some more and have been flushing out all the other things. Short of doing a dairy. That was the one thing that we decided to stay away from just because there's too much inherent risk in it, and there are a lot more things we can do that are revenue generators but also give back to the community and also are less stressful than trying to run a dairy. That's the one goat thing that's not on the table.
Romy: Okay, that's interesting because you were toying with that last time we talked ...
Amy: We were. When Johnny got sick in 2015, that was the one thing we took off the table. Your knee jerk reaction when there's like a crisis in your family is, I think, you look at the thing that you think could be causing the most stress and you think, "Well of course we're going to shut it all down." Then you calm down, step back and go, "No. No. We love this. We're committed to this," but if you look at everything you've talked about doing it's going recognize the one thing that doesn't fit. That isn't going to be a part of it. I think as long as you can pivot, stay true to the original concept, and be able to say, "I need to let this go. It just doesn't fit." I mean in some way, does that make you smarter? I think it does.
Romy: Right, that's a good word to share with everyone, because you don't always need to cut off your arm to spite the bruise you just got, right? That's a really good word. Let's transition a little bit because I want to make sure I have time to just get a quick update on your products then. You were making the soap from the goat milk and then you have this great lotion. I'm in love with your lotion that you make.
Amy:, Thank you.
Romy: Are you still making the lotion?
Amy: Absolutely. We're still making the lotion. It's actually become one of our biggest sellers when we're at market or shows or events. We're trying to figure out how we can wholesale it, because it's such a lovely product, but because it has goat's milk in it, it's not a product that can sit in your cupboard for a couple of years and then you go back to it and think, "Oh, here's some lotion." I mean, it's time-sensitive, so we're figuring out, "How do we get the word out about this?" That's something we're working on but right now our direct marketing to our customers at eastern market is working out really well with that.
Then we tried to make a liquid soap, I stepped back from that because it was too hard,...