A bustling family farm in southern Indiana has landed a quarter-million dollar U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to find a new sweet spot in its operation. Since opening its doors in 2008, Goat Milk Stuff in Scottsburg has steadily worked its business into a lather selling its trademark goat milk soap, but is now aiming to sweeten its operation with a new product line: goat milk candy. The updated business recipe centers on spreading the word that goat milk can make more than chemical and dye-free soap—it’s also an ingredient in “better for you” treats.
Recognizing the untapped potential of goat milk, owner and “Mom in Chief” PJ Jonas had the foresight seven years ago to name the family company Goat Milk Stuff; although the company launched with soap, she knew there was plenty of “stuff” that could be made with goat milk.
“It was always my intention to add food,” says Jonas, “but I had no idea how much regulation was involved in being able to manufacture food for public consumption.”
Jonas and her husband Jim waded through the regulations and now have two certified commercial kitchens on the 37-acre farm. They’ve long been making goat milk caramels for their herd of eight children, but just began selling them about six months ago. They say the not-so-“baaah-d”-for-you treats are made from organic, non-GMO ingredients, raw goat milk, and lack the high fructose corn syrup in conventional candy.
“A goat milk caramel is so much richer and so much more nuanced in flavor. It’s still candy and still should be eaten in moderation,” laughs Jonas, “but it’s a much healthier treat than the chocolate bars on the market. And it’s more satisfying, so you don’t need as much, because it’s rich and you’ll savor it.”
The most daunting challenge facing the small company is getting the word out that it’s making more than soap. The $250,000 in USDA Rural Development funding—the largest Value Added Producer Grant awarded in Indiana since the program’s inception—will make that a more manageable mountain to climb. The grants help rural businesses process and market “value added” products for agricultural commodities.
Located less than a mile from I-65, Goat Milk Stuff plans to use the funds to purchase two billboards along the interstate—one northbound and one southbound—to entice drivers to make a pit stop at the farm. Jonas says it will then follow with additional advertising, such as radio or online ads or print brochures; the medium is yet to be determined.
“We’re looking into becoming more of a destination and growing the local side of our business; people coming to the farm for tours, to spend time with their family and hang out at community events here,” says Jonas. “We want more people to be aware of us.”
In addition to marketing, the funds will be invested in mastering how to package the candies, which also include chocolate-covered goat milk caramels, goat milk fudge, goat milk truffles and even goat milk marshmallows.
“The easy part is to make the candy, the hard part is to package it; it has to be appealing for people to try it and gift it to others,” says Jonas. “Another issue is making sure our candies don’t smell or taste like the soap, because our [farm’s] retail room has both the soap and the candies in it. Because your sense of smell is so strongly tied to how you taste things, you just have to be careful.”
There will likely be no shortage of packaging challenges as the Jonas family perfects other products for sale; “I’m already targeting ice cream,” says Jonas, as well as cheesecakes and pumpkin rolls.
The business will remain a family affair—their oldest son does payroll, youngest daughter picks and fills online orders, and every child in between has impressive business responsibilities. Jim and PJ even called a family meeting to ask their gaggle of “executives” if they wanted to expand into food production.
Goat Milk Stuff has hired employees outside of the family and expects that number to grow—hopeful more customers will belly up to the farm to taste the sweeter side of its business.
Jonas says their eight children, who are homeschooled, are able to “anchor” what they learn by helping run the family business.
Lehmkuhler says USDA Rural Development grants help small communities “develop from within.”