The history of Sonoma County agriculture is filled with a similar theme: Tired of city life, folks go back to the land, relearn lost skills, and raise animals. Through a combination of good timing, risk taking, and innovation, they create a successful business for the next generation to shepherd. Such is the story of Redwood Hill Farm — Capracopia. One of the earliest members of Farm Trails — they originally joined in 1974 — this pioneering goat farm has evolved with the times but always kept its footing firmly planted in Sebastopol, and in the hands of the Bice family. In this Member Spotlight, we talk to owner Jennifer Bice about Redwood Hill’s founding, transformation, and going back to its roots—and of course, the wonderful world of goats!
For a look at historical photos of the farm, visit https://redwoodhillfarm.org/about-us/goat-dairy-history/.
What is the history of your farm?
My parents moved our family from Southern California to Sebastopol in the mid-1960s. Leaving suburbia, we were enthralled with animals and soon had a menagerie of farm animals. The goats quickly became our favorites due to their friendly and outgoing nature, and we could play with them and teach them tricks. We joined 4-H, an agricultural youth organization, to learn how to raise our animals, show them at the fairs, and participate in community service activities.
In the 1960s, the pervasive cultural norm of “going back to the land” was prevalent in California and especially Northern California. Gardens and goat raising became popular, and our own herd continued to grow. This was also the beginning of the new “health food” stores. And those stores called my parents wanting goat milk and products for their stores. This led my parents to design and build a Grade A goat dairy to be able to legally sell goat milk products for human consumption. The Redwood Hill Farm products are still sold at the “natural food stores,” as we call them today, as well as independent and gourmet supermarkets. In 1978, my late husband, Steven Schack, and I purchased the farm and dairy from my parents as they and my younger siblings moved to Hawaii.
Steven and I relaunched the dairy business and together we enjoyed our shared passion for dairy goats and became nationally known for providing dairy goat genetics to dairy goat farmers around the US and internationally. The dairy goat breeding program continues to be an important component of our business today as our animals continue to win awards for their conformation and milk production.
As awareness of the health benefits of goat milk products continued to increase and celebrity chefs were adding them to their menus, our sales and product line increased. Selling at farmers’ markets helped to make the public more aware of the great taste of goat milk products. We made several varieties of artisan cheese, goat milk yogurt, and kefir, which were distributed to natural and specialty stores throughout the United States.
In 2004, I built a new creamery to meet the ever-increasing demand for our goat dairy products. It was an exciting and rewarding experience all while learning along the way. After almost 40 years of leading and growing Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, I sold the creamery in 2016 and kept the farm. I feel like I have come full circle and back to my roots living on the farm, still raising goats, and showing them at fairs and shows.
The dairy goats continue to be the “stars” of our farm and the primary income source. Over the years, we have diversified the farm and now have a small olive grove to produce olive oil, a flower field to grow and sell cut flowers and bouquets, a hop yard, and offer farm tours in the spring and fall. This has helped to provide additional revenue streams to the farm while being compatible with the goat dairy and using our labor resources more fully.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
There are many things I find rewarding about my work and farm. I love being self-employed, working outside with beautiful animals and plants in our Sonoma County countryside, and being able to continue to promote the goat so all know the true beauty and value of these wonderful animals.
In addition, I appreciate being able to implement sustainability measures on our farm to promote conservation and protect the environment. Our farm and two homes are powered by solar electricity, we compost the barn cleanings into soil and use as fertilizer on our farm, and we’ve installed three water tanks to catch and store 100,000 gallons of rainwater to be used in summer, which allows more water to stay in the ground for our nearby watershed.
What do you value about being a member of Farm Trails?
We were early Farm Trails members. Now that we have developed a farm tour program, we are again members. I value Farm Trails for the big picture of the work they do in promoting small-scale agriculture in Sonoma County. I appreciate their professional marketing and how helpful they are for those of us farmers that aren’t quite so into tech. And I love the Gravenstein Apple Fair and how that continues to spread the agricultural message to people in Northern California that aren’t involved in agriculture.
What are your hopes for the future of your farm and/or Sonoma County ag?
I hope that Sonoma County agriculture can continue to thrive and be an important part of the landscape here. Even though there are economic and population pressures, I think that farms and open space are a valuable resource for the well-being of everyone. And being so close to the Bay Area, we have an interested audience that loves to come to Sonoma County. Our farm and goat dairy are “mature” at 55 years of age and I hope that we can continue for the foreseeable future.
What one piece of advice would you share with a new farmer?
My one piece of advice for a new dairy goat farmer would be to seek out others that have come before you for knowledge, advice, and help. We’ve been called pioneers and didn’t have that opportunity, which made it harder, but we learned along the way.
All photos by Lisa Rose Photography