Recently, I was given the honor of being the featured soapmaker for a wonderful Facebook group called SNIF (Soapmaking with Natural Ingredients Forum). My friend and fellow goat milk soap maker, Janelle Holmstrom from Jangle Soapworks, asked me a few questions about my soapy journey. Here it is.
Meet the Soapmaker
originally posted in the Facebook group Soapmaking with Natural Ingredients Forum September, 2017
Christy Bassett ~ Barefoot All Natural Farm
By Janelle Holmstrom
Please introduce yourself. Tell me what makes you you. What inspires you? What makes you happy?
I am a thirty something (ahem) mother, homesteader, animal lover and soap maker. Those are the things that feel like me when I say them and the things that enforce my priorities. But if I had infinite time I would be many more things too. I like to stay busy and am almost always doing at least two things at once. I am a seeker of meaning and a lover of life.
My true passion for the moment is milk. I am incredibly lucky to live on 7 acres in Massachusetts where we have carved a small farm out of the woods in our backyard and have transplanted 5 dairy goats and a cow. One of my favorite parts of the day is my morning routine. The first waft of the outdoor air when I open the screen door, the sound of the wild birds singing and the rowdy bucks calling as they see me emerge from the house. I try to remember to take a moment then to look around then to assess the weather, appraise the state of the gardens, and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of this place we choose to call home. Because once the work begins it’s easy to forget how truly lucky I am to be living this life, so close to our earth and our resources.
Then there is the click of the latch on the door, the creak of the hinges pronouncing my arrival, the waking of warm bodies and shuffling of hooves. I stop to kiss our family milk cow, Shine, on the lips as she peeks her humungous wet nose over the Dutch door of her stall to greet me. The kids and does in the next stall begin demanding breakfast and the calf bumps the door impatiently as I gather the hay and feed. I milk our two mature dairy goats by hand, and then, slowly, I rest my head against Shine’s side as I milk her out as well.
There is an unspoken connection between a dairy animal and her caretaker. Above all else there must be trust. She willingly enters the stanchion to be locked into place, then allows a human to clean and examine her delicate udder. And even further, she stands in place without protest- just the occasional over her shoulder casual glance, while I empty her body of milk. It still gets to me every time I stand up with a full bucket to thank a generous animal. I am humbled to be allowed such a privilege multiple times every day.
I remember when milking was new and foreign to me only 4 years ago. My fingers ached and my forearms felt like they might split apart. But I never, ever, wanted to quit. When I found dairy, it was like opening a door in the corner of a room that I never knew existed. I did not grow up on a farm and had never even grown a vegetable until I was an adult. But I did love animals and received a degree in Psychobiology (animal behavior, or the study of the connection between the mind and body for multiple species) from the University of New England in 2003. After spending almost 15 years training assistance dogs for people with disabilities, I have begun to change courses and am very happy to be pursuing my love of all things handmade and homegrown.
How did you get into soap making? How long have you been making? Tell us about your first ever batch of soap and what you mostly took away from that experience.
As you might expect, milk brought me to soap. (And I have a hunch that I’m not the only one!) We began our dairy journey with two full size Saanen goats, who each produced about 1 gallon of milk per day. After the initial excitement of raw milk drinking, yogurt and kefir culturing, and cheese experimenting (I say this because there were not a lot of edible cheeses being made in the beginning), there was still a lot of milk left over. One of the most well-known uses for goat’s milk is in soap. So, I did some research, bought the supplies and made some soap! And a new love was born.
Soap making is a little like magic to me. How can you take such pure, natural ingredients that would normally repel each other (like oil and water), sprinkle in a little creative vision (with a solid base in science) and create something beautiful and incredibly useful? It’s magic I tell you. (Or maybe it’s really the science.) But in any case, it got me hooked.
Clean Slate goat milk soap. Indigo and activated charcoal with essential oils of spearmint, eucalyptus and cedarwood.
I’ve always been interested in how our left brain and right brain work together. We all have a creative side and an intellectual side. For me, soap brings those two sides together in a tangible way. It allows me to imagine and experiment with infinite combinations of colors, patterns, ingredients and scents. But the vision is also firmly grounded in the reality of how those elements work together. Keeping the balance of a mathematical recipe while pushing the limits of what that equation can hold is extremely exciting. (Can’t we all relate to the exhilaration of a new soap idea and the anticipation of the cut after you make it?)
Tell me about some of the other aspects of your life that keep you ticking now. Your family, your animals, other things that you make, how much is for biz and how much for personal pleasure.
For me, my soap business is a way for me to support our way of life. Growing our own food and buying locally when we need to supplement is extremely important to us. I want my children to know where their food comes from and to have some skin in the game so that they have a deep appreciation for what it takes to survive. Human beings absorb a lot of resources and the current popular way of living is just to take and take without giving anything back. This goes against the natural cycle of living seasonally and replenishing what you borrow from the land. My goal is to live in balance with our local ecology. To utilize what nature and agriculture can give us, but also to foster symbiosis and above all else leave this earth without adding to the destruction of it.
Animal welfare is also very important to me. One of the ways that I guarantee that the animal products we use in our home and business come from humanely, sustainably raised animals is to produce them ourselves. In addition to goats and our cow, we also raise pigs, chickens, and have had honeybees. All of our farm animals have multiple jobs. The pigs clear the land after we have cut trees for firewood, consume excess milk, whey or food scraps that are not palatable to people, and also create lard and meat. The chickens eat bugs, encourage decomposition of fallen leaves and trees through their scratching for food, and also provide meat and eggs. Bees pollinate our flowers and allow berries and vegetables to grow, and also make honey and beeswax. The goats and cow keep grass and weeds at bay, produce quality fertilizer for our gardens, and also make milk.
We strive to have as little outside input as possible by following a sustainable farming model. But there are still costs that come along with owning a small farm. We buy hay and supplements for our animals, fencing and hardware, as well as replacement stock as needed. The money that the soap business brings in goes back to other local farmers and businesses, which strengthens our community. We like to follow our cash flow and watch it come back around to build each other up. I have made many new friends by getting to know the people behind the products that we buy.
Tell me about your business name. What inspired you to take it from a personal level to a business level?
Our business is called “Barefoot All Natural Farm”. My husband is a barefoot runner- meaning he runs (on the road, on the track, on the trails) without shoes. (I go barefoot most of the time too, but I am not much of a runner.) There is a whole movement dedicated to going barefoot more often to allow your feet to move how they were naturally designed to move. In short, shoes hinder the way that we stand, walk and run which can lead to posture changes, alignment issues, and injuries. By allowing your body to tell you what is comfortable and what is not, we can reconnect with nature’s design.
We adopted this model for our business- follow the natural order of the world around you and stop creating problems by ignoring cause and effect.
You have such a multifaceted life. How do you find time to soap? When is your favorite/most productive time?
Caring for our animals and our children do take up a lot of time. That in conjunction with working another part time job means that soap is squeezed in after hours. I am a “midnight soaper”, staying up later than I should for a little me time to create beautiful things and contemplate new endeavors. This is one of my other favorite times of day- when everyone else is asleep and nobody is requesting my attention. It’s then that I find myself, almost every night, coming back to soap. It is my creative outlet and the culmination of the work I’ve done throughout the day to source the ingredients. Even if it weren’t a business for me I would still make soap. But I do feel inspired that others appreciate what I create as much as I do and are dedicated to supporting my habit.
Can you think of anything that makes you unique in the soap biz? A niche? Something you feel particularly talented about? Something that makes your soap recognizable to others immediately?
A core value for my company, as well as in my life in general, is to include at least one local/homegrown product in everything that I create (and the more the better). It’s a way to keep me grounded to the reason for doing it all, as well as to educate others about the importance of producing and supporting locally. My tagline is “Sustainable. Ethical. Local.” Sticking to those guidelines when selecting ingredients for my soap helps to keep the products natural, support the virtues of our region, and gives us control and insight over how they were produced.
Oatmeal Milk and Honey soap made with our own lard, goat milk, honey, beeswax and propolis. Annatto and zinc oxide with benzoin resin and oats.
Wow, Christy, you amaze me. You have taken some mundane questions and turned them into literary magic. I leave your words feeling inspired and revitalized and encouraged for the future of our existence. As there start to be more and more people like you, we do have hope. I know it! I will take my shoes off and attempt to walk a bit more in your footsteps today, and everyday.
Thank you for your words of inspiration, dedication to our craft and for sharing some insight into your world. I love it!
You can follow Barefoot All Natural Farm on Facebook, Instagram, Etsy and Christy’s blog at www.barefootallnaturalfarm.com