Ruby's Goat Farm in North Scituate, RI chemical-free
North Scituate, RI
North Scituate, RI - Ruby is a charming, personable goat with a purple collar, and she came to Cherry Valley Farm as a pet. She joined the rest of the Martinelli-Rambone family menagerie at the 18th century farmhouse that they are gradually restoring, and the growing number of outbuildings variously sheltering laying hens, pigs, adopted calves, and of course, more goats. Ruby hadn’t been on the farm too long before Jodi Martinelli-Rambone began experimenting with milking her, then looking for something to do with the milk. Goats’ milk is exceptionally rich and well tolerated by other mammals, and some of Ruby’s milk goes to the orphaned calves they buy at auction to nurse back to health – there are dried mixes for the purpose, says Jodi, but goats milk is much more effective. For the time being, Jodi only has the right to sell goat’s milk in containers labeled “not for human consumption,” because she has to build a certified dairy room and processing equipment to sell human food. But goats’ milk has many, many uses.
And Jodi has big plans. She has been teaching herself to make a mild-flavored, spreadable fresh goats’ milk cheese, and she dreams of being able to take time to apprentice with a more experienced cheesemaker to learn to make aged cheeses, especially hard aged ones. Modestly, she described her current skill level as “a really basic recipe, the simplest there is,” but it’s clear that she has a cheesemaker’s eye for detail and adaptability. She has learned through experience that spring-time milk, when the goats are eating fresh grass and a more varied diet, actually produces less milk than the winter feed of dried grains. And of course, the taste of the cheeses differs according to the feed, too. Goats produce milk about 9 months of the year, which trails off in the winter as the goats get ready to give birth in the spring, which launches a new milk year.
Jodi worked an internship at the Dutra's Wanton Farm, milking cows and doing barn work, to broaden her understanding of dairy in general, although the experience was radically different than work on her own farm. Ruby has been joined by 9 other goats on the farm, of a variety of breeds. Four of them are milking goats which Jodi milks by hand, and all are still as much pets as farm animals. Some of the goats were acquired or kept for milking, but a couple others were unwanted pets that they took in when the former owners tired of the responsibility. These newcomers get nurtured back to health and kept as pets if they can’t be milked.
Jodi confesses sheepishly she’s still a little bit of a city girl (she grew up in Cranston), and she had trouble getting used to the death of a barn cat, or the sale of a fattened calf bound eventually for slaughter. But dairy and eggs are, for her, the perfect compromise, working with the animals to produce something, but keeping the animals themselves. She admits her first steps toward cheesemaking were motivated by a wish to make her pets pay for themselves, but she’s clearly been bitten by the cheesemaking bug, and has a voracious appetite for knowledge about cheesemaking techniques. She is heartened by the interest she gets from people who want locally made cheese, who sometimes pester her to learn to make French-style ripened cheeses and go into real production. Jodi would love nothing more than to take a few months to learn the techniques for more elaborate cheeses, but that’s a long way off, especially since the birth of her son a couple years ago. For the time being, it’s more workable to aim for some shorter stints with another goat-cheese maker closer to home in New England who might take on a periodic apprentice. Someday, maybe, when he’s older, and after the basic cheesemaking is up and running…
But the road to certification is a very long one, and very expensive, especially when you can’t sell much of your product to earn money or equity toward making the major investments required by the health department – full commercial kitchen, milk processing equipment, separate septic tank and water well, and transport. Still, Jodi’s grateful to be a Rhode Island farmer, because you have an advantage in a small state. You don’t have to travel hours to get to markets, and the state division of agriculture is small and personal, and works really hard to help each and every farmer do what they want to do. Through their training programs, and especially through farm-visit field trips, Jodi finds a real cameraderie.
For now, Jodi can only sell eggs and the labeled milk – which could still be a find for anyone looking to make their own goats milk soap, feed sick animals, or whatever else comes to mind. They also sell firewood from the farm. They are working on a new room attached to the goat barn that could be a cheese room down the line, and exploring options for the outlay needed to get it up and running. Meanwhile, she’s also looking for a commercial kitchen she could rent periodically to make cheese for sale, but she would still need to invest in a way to transport her milk according to regulations, at such a small scale. Farms like Jodi’s rely entirely on local customers to give them both the financial means to invest in their project, and faith that their products are worth the investment because people like and want them.