4-H Experience Leads to Lifetime Love
Sara Goemaat was raised on a family farm about three miles northeast of Belmond in North Central Iowa. As many youth do, she moved away from home upon graduating from high school. Sara then earned both bachelors and masters degrees in Ag Education from Iowa State University. She and her husband enjoyed their time in the city but yearned to return to their rural roots.
Today Sara and her husband, Dan, are harvesting their first crop in partnership with Sara’s parents, Larry and Karla Pals. Sara also works at the hospital, and then spends nights and weekends hobby farming. She and her mom, Karla Pals, enjoy raising La Mancha dairy goats. Currently, they have a tribe of 10. They turn the milk into tasty treats and moisturizing soaps. They also enjoy gardening and canning the fruits of their labor, so late summer and early fall finds them spending hours in the kitchen.
“My mom has always canned,” said Sara. “When Dan and I moved into our first place (it was an apartment), I wanted a big garden. I planted a lot of seed but jalepenos were the only thing the deer wouldn’t eat! Because I had so many peppers, I started making pepper jelly and then one thing led to the next.”
Today Sara sells a variety of jams and jelly including apple jelly, cranberry pepper jelly, sweet pepper jelly, and onion jelly. Her mom makes apple butter and basil jelly.
Their jam business is growing based mostly on word-of-mouth advertising and a few booths at craft shows. Thanks to Pinterest, there’s been a renewed interested in canning and home cooking. Do-it-yourself projects are today’s hottest trend; Americans obsession with DIY leads to renewed interest in gardening and home redecorating projects, too.
“My nickname was ‘Grandma’ in school because I have always loved sewing, gardening and canning,” says Sara. “When I was in third and fourth grades, I’d go on sewing weekends with my grandma. Now my friends think my hobbies are cool. Lately I’ve been sewing fabric diapers for my friends’ babies. I’ve also made curtains and pillows for our house, as well as recovered chairs.”
A member of the Iowa Hawkeyes 4-H Club, Sara says her favorite project areas were horticulture and livestock. Her mom was the club’s leader. Now Sara, her mom, and Sara’s sister-in-law are all club co-leaders.
“Goat numbers are increasing as a 4-H project area today, but when I was a 4-H member, there wasn’t a goat category,” explains Sara. “I entered my goat in the pet category and was thrilled to take home Reserve Grand Champion Pet as a 5th grader.”
While Sara has raised goats since she was a youngster, it was during college she met Butch Sowers from Nevada that really fueled her passion for dairy goats. She spent a year helping show goats for several families and was then gifted a doe. That got her start, and now she enjoys showing at the Iowa Dairy Goat Association’s show and at the Iowa State Fair.
“We’re trying to keep our goat numbers to a level that allows us to make the best use of their milk. My mom makes cheese, and we’ve made ice cream for our own enjoyment. We also make soaps that we sell,” says Sara.
Before selling her soaps, Sara did a lot of research online. She found a cold process but the soap had to sit for six weeks. Then she found a crockpot recipe that allows you to use that soap the next day. She said it was intimidating to first calculate the correct proportion of lye to milk and oils. She also had to learn how to regulate the temperature to keep the soap the desired color.
The Amazing Grace Milk Shoppe soaps are all unscented, which is especially good news for people with allergies and sensitive skin. The only fragrance comes from additives including milk, honey and oatmeal. Goat soap has been shown to help people with acne, eczema and psoriasis. Plus, the natural glycerin in this soap keeps one’s skin moisturized and nourished.
“I wanted a meaningful name for my soap. One day I was listening to the radio and heard “Amazing Grace” playing. Whenever I hear that song, I think of my mom because it’s her favorite,” says Sara. “Moms are just so special, and my mom has always been so supportive. So I decided ‘Amazing Grace’ would be the perfect name and then I added ‘milk shoppe’.”
Fresh Goat Milk Cheese
- 1 gallon fresh goat milk, strained
- 1/4 cup vinegar (cider, white or wine)
- Sea salt
- Herbs or seasoning of choice - OPTIONAL
- Using a large saucepan and thermometer, heat milk slowly, stirring often, to 185°. A slight film will start to form on the surface, but keep stirring it back into the milk. Small bubbles should be starting to form around the edge of the pan.
- Remove thermometer and slowly trickle the vinegar into the milk, stirring constantly until small curdles start to form.
- Remove pan from heat and let set undisturbed 20-30 minutes.
- Set a strainer over a large bowl or pan and line it with a clean flour sack dish towel & pour the curdled milk through. The whey will drain through into the bowl, leaving the fresh curd in the towel.
- Let drain 10-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the consistency you prefer.
- Place the cheese into a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt; stir to combine.
Note: At this point you have a soft, spreadable cheese that can be used on crackers, spread on a plate and topped with pepper jelly, crumbled into salads or omelets or onto pizza. You may also wish to add one or more seasonings or herbs, such as ground pepper, garlic, fresh basil or rosemary. Another option is to press the cheese into a cup or mold and chill several hours, then unmold and slice. The nutritious whey can be used in place of water when making bread or boiling rice, pasta or vegetables.