The Suburban Farmgirl and A Suburban Farmer

Close to New York City, our suburban town is sandwiched between two other big cities, yet also surrounded by very rural areas. Driving on our highways, you might not think “farms”, nor on our Main Street with the bustle of traffic. Yet, nestled on a little back road IS a farm, with some of the friendliest and most interesting livestock imaginable. Come visit with me, the “Suburban Farmgirl” and meet my friend, A.J., a “Suburban Farmer”.

I first met A.J. fifteen years ago, at my vet’s office, getting to know her through a mutual close friend. A.J.‘s done some interesting things, such as be a curator at a historical museum, and serve as a certified wildlife rehabilitator. She was a vet-tech for twenty years, but wasn’t fulfilled, feeling like she was dealing more with disease and death than making the difference she longed to make. Wanting to be a farmer, she knew she’d have to be self-employed and self-sufficient.  A.J.’s a true example of a modern-day homesteader.  She reuses and re-purposes, eats yogurt made from goat milk every day, gathers fresh eggs, spins her own yarn with her antique spinning wheel, and makes her own brand of goat milk soap.

My friend A.J. and I on a recent visit to her farm.

Some of the homespun items that A.J. creates.

It took eight years to build her farm, Rowanwood, the way it stands today, with the goal of aiding farm animals that could become extinct. Her livestock includes Alpacas, Olde English Baby doll sheep, and rare Nigerian Dwarf Dairy goats – the cutest things! Her farm’s cruelty-free, and the rare breed animals there are her pets. The little goats are no bigger than medium-sized dogs. Upon visiting recently, I was surprised at how sweet and affectionate the goats are. Greeted by the entire herd of curious on-lookers, I became especially smitten with Rosie, who gave me ‘kisses’, and would playfully rub my leg with her head as soon as I stopped petting her. Rowanwood Farm just got its USDA license to be a petting zoo, and A.J.’s training her animals to visit nursing homes, schools, and to attend birthday parties. She’s also the only licensed llama-trekking company in the state, taking people in the forest hiking with llamas. A.J. wishes to instill a respect and love of nature.

At the farm, the inside of the barn is so cozy. I also noticed that it’s “cleaner” than most typical barns housing livestock. This is due to the smart Norwegian design of the floor, which is raised from the ground and slotted. This allows the animals’ liquid waste to fall through to the ground, and the solid waste to easily be swept where it will be used as compost. Inside, she re-purposed an old wooden crib to hold hay, and old slides and playground equipment sit outside for the goats’ entertainment.

A.J. keeps plenty busy, and her work changes with the seasons. In autumn, she can be found at craft shows and events, dyeing yarn in her cauldron, bringing in hay, breeding animals, and doing construction. In the winter, she keeps busy shoveling and spinning wool by her fireplace. When spring comes, she’s birthing baby goats. Summer finds her selling her wares at various farmers markets, and working long hours making her amazing soap. She must do the soap making when the windows can be open due to working with lye. A.J. learned the art of making soap from a retired master soap-maker. A.J.’s rare breed goats produce super-fatted milk, making for the best quality soap. Her soap comes as a 2.5 ounce bar, selling for $3.00 a bar at local shops, farmers markets, and grocers.

A.J. ‘s goat milk soaps all come wrapped up so pretty in beautiful metallic chiffon drawstring bags.

She also makes and sells “wool weights” of her own design. Pretty and functional,  I have a set hanging in my laundry room as decoration.

Soap-making is a labor of love for A.J. It’s a great deal of work, taking six weeks to make one batch. A.J. says most commercial bar soaps can no longer be called soap. Due to their synthetic ingredients, they are referred to as “beauty bars”. My household loves A.J.’s soap. My husband has suffered for years with dry skin and psoriasis, and by using a more natural soap, his skin has improved. Winter’s not so uncomfortable anymore. A.J.’s soap contains essential oils, botanicals, and soap-maker scents in over forty varieties. My favorites are the lavender and the oatmeal. Goat milk’s known for its healing properties, and like a fine chocolate, her soap uses the milk as its main ingredient. Its creaminess is a luxury, and lasts a long time. With the holidays approaching, A.J.’s soap is one of my favorite hostess gifts to give. (Each one is wrapped beautifully in a pretty fabric bag). Sometimes I’ll add a jar of my homemade jam and a dishcloth to go with it, for a nice “homespun” gift. (To inquire about her soap, reach A.J. through her website at www.rowanwoodfarm.com) . Do you have some favorite little gift ideas for this time of year you’d like to share? Drop me a comment below.

While so many of us farmgirls can only dream of real farming, I admire A.J. for pursuing and living her dream, and for her deep respect and love for animals, nature, and the outdoors. She’s an inspiration and a true farmgirl!

Happy Holidays!

Leave a comment 17 Comments

  1. Nicole says:

    Awesome AJ! Congratulations–

    Nicole, I know A.J. appreciates that.  I see from your email address, you must be a goat lover, too.  Take care, Nicole

  2. What beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing!! Your article gives me renewed hope of becoming a Texan suburban farmer myself someday!

    Thanks, Belinda!  A.J.’s animals were fun to photograph!  Thanks for reading, and follow your dreams!  -Nicole

  3. AJ is my inspiration! Our sweet girl, Kalila is from Rowanwood;)
    This is a very nice piece:)

    Jennifer, if Kalila is anything like the animals I met at A.J.’s, she must be a doll!  Thanks for reading!  -Nicole

  4. Mary Ann says:

    Nicole, wow, AJ is an inspiration to us all!

    I think so, too!  Thanks for reading!- Nicole

  5. Liz Bowling says:

    The beauty of the animals is amazing. Thank you for taking time and love to preserve these beautiful creatures.

    Liz, aren’t they adorable?  My daughter and I had so much fun snuggling them all.  Such sweeties.  -Nicole

  6. Sherry says:

    Ahhh, this is my dream…and realistically I know it will probably never be a reality…but OH how I envy her…even all the hard work. What a life. Thank you for sharing.

    Thanks for reading!  -Nicole

  7. Shery says:

    What a wonderful home those animals have…so clean and well attended! Love the repurposed crib feeder.

  8. VivianMonroe says:

    Nicole, I really enjoyed your article today. I too have a friend who raises goats and makes goat soap to sell at the farmers market. I love her soap. She makes lavender, rosemary and unscented. Also she makes a pine tar soap that is really good for those who suffer with psoriasis and other dry skin issues, and also for helping to clear up poison ivy. Your friend has a great price on her soap. My friend sells hers $5 a bar and no pretty bag. She has people wanting to order from her, but she has a full time job so she doesn’t want to get into all that. Can we order soap from your friend on line? I think your friend has a great farm and I envy her. Be Blessed.

    Hi Vivian!  Yes, my friend will sell her soap through her website.  Just email her and she can answer you with all the details.  It is lovely, and makes a nice gift.  Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!  -Nicole

  9. Debbie says:

    Hey Nicole,
    Looks like a wonderful field trip to the farm! I love A.J.’s farmgirl determination and her mission! The animal pic’s are wonderful… They all look so happy and loved. Thanks for sharing! This one is inspiration for all us farmgirls who are still dreaming of " more farming " in our futures!
    Happy Holidays,
    Deb ( your beach bloggin’ sister )

    Hey Deb, Weren’t those animals just the cutest?  I’ve been there when she had new babies, too.  Those animals know they are in good hands, I think.  Take care, Nicole

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Congrats AJ! I’ve been to her farm for 3 years after working with her at an animal hospital for an internship. It really is a great barn and I love all the animals! I hope to see her lovely farm again soon!

    Thanks for reading, Elizabeth!  -Nicole

  11. A.J.,
    This is a wonderful article. I too love your soap.

  12. Heidi says:

    So jealous! Goat kisses are the best love Evah!

    Heidi, I agree!  Hugs, Nicole

  13. KimberlyD says:

    Great pictures, this sure like a fun place to visit. I crochet topper son kitchen towels and dish clothes I give to family and friends. I use to sell them but everyone sells them at those bazzars and flea markets. I use to sell homemade soap in the ’90’s around here and it wouldn’t sell, I was a head of my time for now you see people selling it everywhere! lol!

    Sounds like it, Kimberly!  Maybe you should try again! Thanks for reading. -Nicole

  14. Nichki says:

    What a great article! AJ is THE BEST!

  15. KarenM says:

    Love your stories and photo’s. Did you sneak one of the little guys home with ya. Just tell the hubby it’s a small funny dog. The closest I get to farming right now is my little garden. I have tons of lettuce & spinach, hopefully the squash will start producing soon.
    TC

    No, but I did warn A.J. she should check my pockets for Rosie before I left, ha ha!  They really were the sweetest little babies!  Good luck with the garden, mine is put to bed for the winter!  -Nicole

  16. Rose says:

    Another great article by a good friend about a good friend! I miss you both and wish I could have been there during your visit. I love all of AJ’s products, the soap is wonderful. I send AJ items that I acquire for free from other veterinary hospitals and meetings for her to re-use and re-purpose on her farm. I love to visit her and assist in taking care of some of the goat babies! I assisted in delivering a set of triplets last time I was there.

    We had a recent amateur radio Christmas party and AJ provided soap medallions and gift baskets for the women attending the event. She did this project in addition to her million other things to do.

    Thanks for a great article with pictures. I plan to share this with friends when they ask me who the "goat milk soap lady" is.

    PS – I don’t have any of those wool weights yet if Santa needs a gift idea for me….

    Rosemarie Niznik, DVM

    Rose, Love you!  Thanks for reading!  -Nicole

  17. Janet Dodson says:

    Fantastic A.J., she should be called, what amazing talents abound. What a kind heart and life A.J. leads. We should all be so lucky.

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