Grace Malloy is my sister in law, but she is also a friend and an inspiration to me. Her dedication to Poco Farm, to farm education and to her community is evident the moment you meet her. Poco Farm, with its herd of goats, flocks of chickens, bees, citrus orchard and rows of vegetables growing, is a unique farm located on a four acre plot in downtown Meiners Oaks in Ojai, California. Grace is incredibly inspiring to be around, every decision at Poco seems to be whatever is best for the animals, the crops, the earth and the community around it. Grace is very open about the beauty, hardships, costs and benefits of farming and caring for her animals. I hope you are also inspired by her realness and her commitment to continual learning, teaching and sharing. We are so excited to have Grace teaching our Goat Milk Soap Making Class September 17th, 2016.
WHS: How did Poco Farm begin?
Grace Malloy: I think it began the first time my mom read me "Little House on the
Prairie". I've been dreaming about starting a small farm since I was a
little girl. My husband Dan grew up here in Ojai with animals, and
when we met, the more time we spent together, the more time we spent
on farms and ranches, working together and talking about our dream of
having our own farm. We found the Poco Farm land three years ago and
couldn't believe how lucky we were to have stumbled upon it. It's a
four acre urban farm in Meiners Oaks, walking distance to over 2,500
kids at six schools. We've only been here for two years, so we're
really just getting started with creating this educational farm space
for our community.
WHS: What is the first thing you do on the farm in the morning?
GM: Attempt to do some self care. I somehow got it stuck in my head that
the animals come first, and then we take care of ourselves. I've found
however, that taking five minutes to eat some yogurt and drink a
little water before running out to start chores can really extend my
happiness and minimize mid morning burnout. After that I let the noisy
mama goats out and the chicken flocks out into their fenced in areas,
and then start my feeding and milking routine.
WHS: What does an average day at Poco look like?
GM: Every day is so different (goat birthing! water leak! planting day!),
but I suppose an average day might look something like this:
7 am: Milk and feed/graze the goats and feed the chickens, water
herbal medicine garden- 1.5 hours
8:30 am: Clean barn/muck pens/organize herdshare and flockshare,
organize our barn store, harvest animal feed, scrub water buckets,
etc. turn off garden irrigation and any citrus irrigation that might
have been running overnight
10 am: Eat breakfast, make to do list for the day, set up for students arriving
11 am: Farm tour (we try to just schedule one visit per day): we have
a great group of local environmental educators who come help teach. We
have different curriculum for different ages, all involving a lot of
hands-on experiences interacting with our farm ecosystem- from
reaching into the compost pile to milking goats, we use tactile
experience to access the intellectual.
12 pm: Clean up from farm tour, make lunch
1 pm: Go find some internet to communicate with teachers, organize a
class series at the Grange, answer some goat keeping questions,
collaborate on some curriculum, coordinate volunteers, do some
accounting and schedule, schedule, schedule.
4 pm: Weed something, install new, less wasteful irrigation systems,
touch base with our interns and make a plan for the week, harvest
citrus and mostly just fix broken things.
6 pm: Meet with Emily and Tyler Staalberg, who are leasing our back
two acres to grow mixed veggies and dye plants, to touch base and
discuss plans for farm tours, collaborating on projects, and to make
sure they have everything they need.
7:30 pm: Milk and feed/graze the goats, lock the chickens in their
mobile coops, collect eggs. Start irrigation at night to avoid excess
8:30 pm Make Dinner? Ha!
WHS: When and how did you get into having
goats? And soap making?
GM: I got into keeping dairy goats initially 8 years ago when a neighbor
asked for help milking their goat while they were on vacation. Six
years ago we got our first goats, a wedding gift from a twelve year
old goat mentor of mine. Goats are lovely animals to get to hang out
with for a couple hours a day-- they're smart and brave and quirky--
and their milk is healing, delicious magic!
Soap making has become this pretty necessary process for dealing with
excess milk and attempting to break even on my goat keeping habit. Here
in dry Southern California, organic feed is expensive, and I haven't
been able to buy a trailer yet to take them on browsing hikes around
the valley, so keeping goats is pricey. The soap is a great value
added product that supports us through the season when the goats
aren't producing milk. I use all organic ingredients in my soap, and
use a lot of really rich nourishing oils, creating a bar that is
really safe and healing-- hard to find these days!
WHS: Who or what inspires you?
GM: The expansiveness of understanding and depth of emotional intelligence
in the thought processes of little kids; mothers in labor, of caprine
and human varieties; the trust and generosity of my husband; and the
enthusiasm of my community. And the writing of Wendell Berry and J.K.
WHS: What is the hardest part of managing your farm?
GM: The anxiety I feel when my animals are sick or a part of the farm
ecosystem isn't functioning right. I didn't anticipate it being so
hard. Animal husbandry really makes you look the big stuff right in
the face: birth, death, pain, love. It's all present on some level
every day on the farm. Sometimes I wonder why I don't just go to the
Food Whole (a.k.a. Whole Foods- see this awesome video that nicknamed
it thus here: https://vimeo.com/39451071) and the farmer's market and
have a small kitchen garden and not bother with this animal stuff! And
then one of my does comes up and blows her sweet warm breath on my
cheek and I remember why it's all worth it.
Another part I didn't anticipate is how much coordination and computer
time it would be. I just want to be outside! But if I want to be
outside on a well functioning farm with kids learning on it, I have to
be inside growling at my computer too.
WHS: What does the future look like for poco farm?
GM: We hope to eventually provide every student in our community with at
least one farm tour experience in their school career. Right now, in
coordination with Food For Thought, a local nonprofit, the entire
fourth grade of the Ojai Unified School District visits our farm or
Rio Gozo Farm for two hours each spring. Nordhoff's Environmental
Field Studies class visits our farm to learn and work once a month for
nine months out of the year. Thacher sends students to volunteer once
a week. Also, we've been doing a lot of classroom visits to prepare
the students for their tours and teach the community about
regenerative agriculture. I run a seasonal series of homesteading
skills classes through the Ojai Valley Grange, many of which are held at our farm. I hope that we will eventually have a plethora of camps every summer, a once a
week families-on-the-farm afternoon program, perhaps a summer film
series, and curriculum throughout the year for families and students,
we can touch a lot of people and change a lot of eating habits!
WHS: What advice to you have for anyone considering getting a goat?
GM: Don't do it. Yet. Learn first! I spent three days a week for a year
interning with a home-schooled 12 year old girl and got to make
mistakes and learn without the pressure of a goat's life in my hands.
I also got to see firsthand what a huge daily commitment dairy goats
are, and know for sure if it was right for me. Also, get a goat with a
community! I haven't yet seen someone successfully, healthfully keep
dairy goats without a community of support. Our milkmaids are
lifesavers! From personal experience, it's best to learn as much as
you can before you embark on your own goat herd journey of trial and
Photos by Brittany Smith