JONESBORO – A fledgling goat farmer is taking Down East Maine by storm – less than six years after acquiring her first goat – with an array of artisanal cheeses.
The demand for the products created by Kim Roos at Gardenside Dairy has become so great, boosted by the influx of summer tourists, that she is expanding her herd and hiring an apprentice, while still expanding her line with imaginative new products.
This year she went commercial for the first time, becoming only the second licensed goat dairy in Washington County.
Roos said the lazy, contented life her goats live, along with fresh sea air and a breathtaking view of the Chandler River, are all infused in her cheeses, smoothies, yogurt and ice cream.
As she tosses them hay after a milking session, she calls them by name – April, Beauty, May, Sadie, Ella, Cookie and on and on, giving each one a bit of attention.
Artisanal cheese-making is thriving in Maine, and the rest of the world is beginning to take notice. Last year, Maine cheese makers won 17 awards at a major national competition. This year, even with fewer Maine entries, local artisans still took home seven awards.
Roos said her business has been operating from the farmstead since 2002 and commercially since earlier this year. She credits its expansion to two forces: tourism and the buy-local movement.
“People are really getting on line with supporting local farmers. There is so much interest in what we do and how we do it,” she said. “But it is the tourists that support us all summer.”
Some of her products include chive pepper or dried cranberry chevre spreads, garlic lovers or Italian lovers’ cheese, fresh fruit smoothies, apple smoked crumbly chevre, and her latest creation, frozen yogurt. She also makes goat milk soap.
Roos began her dairy with just two goats in the fall of 2002 but said “they are kind of like potato chips,” and immediately obtained two more. “The first few months were hard,” she admitted. Having been raising her family in Connecticut, just a few miles from New York City, on property not even large enough for a vegetable garden, Roos did a lot of studying about goat dairies.
“I read everything I could get my hands on,” she said. And then her big break came when a fellow goat owner needed to tend to the annual blueberry harvest. “I was able to be her relief milker and really learn the ropes,” Roos said.
“Before we even had milk, people were asking us for cheese,” she said. Since Maine is one of only eight states that allow raw milk sales directly off the farm, that’s how Gardenside Dairy operated for three years. The demand continued to grow, however, so Roos became a licensed commercial dairy earlier this year.
“We follow all the same regulations as a 500-head herd of cows. The state regulations make no distinction on size, nor do they make a distinction on species. Camel, cow, goat – all the milk is treated as the same product.”
Now, the Roos family has 14 goats – 12 ewes and two rams. “We want to get bigger, maybe have 20. And then we will have to make a decision. We will either decide to stay here or move to a farm with more acreage.”
Roos said her cheese is so popular because she is a stickler for quality and flavor. “First, it is for us,” she said. “We moved here from Connecticut so that our children could have a better life, good food.”
She frequently conducts tastings at farmers’ markets. “The product has to speak for itself,” she said.
When one customer at a farmers’ market asked how long a smoothie would stay fresh, Roos told her seven days from the date on the bottom of the bottle. Tipping up the smoothie, the customer exclaimed, “But this date is today!”
“I told her: ‘That’s right. I was up at 5 a.m. this morning,'” Roos laughed. “This is what the consumer is now looking for. A real connection with the farmer.”
Roos sells at the Calais and Eastport farmers’ markets, through local buying clubs and direct off the farm, on Looks Point Road off Route 1 in Jonesboro. Helen’s Restaurant in Machias also serves Roos’ cheese on a specialty salad.
“This started off as my project,” Roos said Tuesday. “But it has become a family project. They seem to have adapted quite well.” Kim and her husband, Don, have five children, ranging from nearly 18 to just six months old. Everyone helps with chores, feeding and cleaning, she said.
Winter will see a change in the work: The goats will milk less and less as they prepare to kid in March. “We have a waiting list for our does,” Roos said, proudly.
Reflecting on the growth of her business, Ross said she does not regret trading a city lifestyle to become a farmer.
“We wanted to raise our children in a place where they could have a real childhood. Before we came, we knew there had to be a better life. We made the jump and we have no regrets.”