Earlier this fall I was lucky enough to visit Kennebec Cheesery, owned and operated by Jean and Peter Koons. Kennebec Cheesery has a beautiful farm with a lovely bunch of white Alpine goats. After waiting in line to buy Kennebec Cheesery's famously popular (at Colby College) goat cheese every Thursday at the Waterville Farmers Market, I was excited to visit the farm and see where the delectable goat products come from! I truly enjoyed meeting the goats of the farm and talking to Jean about her life as a goat farmer. After speaking to Jean, I learned what it takes to be the most popular goat farmer at the Waterville Farmer's market.
MNN: How were you attracted to farm life?
Jean Koons: I grew up on a farm in NZ and have always been involved with farming except for afew periods when off at university. I can't imagine myself living in a city.
Why goats? I know that you have Alpine goats, what is special about this breed?
Goats are smaller and easier than cows. We thought about sheep but Americans do not eat much lamb and certainly not hogget or mutton. I have Alpine goats because I bought them from Caitlin Hunter of Appleton Creamery. I met Caitlin at a Women in Agriculture conference when I was trying to work out what farming system would work for us here in Maine. Goats and cheesemaking won out. Alpines have a lot of personality but they are not too noisy.
How sustainable is the farm? How organic is the farm?
We grow most of our own feed -- the animals are pasture fed for as long as possible and we make our own hay. We do buy in GMO-free grain from Quebec for the milkers. Our whey from the cheese process goes to a neighbour who raises pigs, one of which ends up in our freezer. We follow mostly organic practices -- we minimize chemical inputs as much as possible. We do use chemical fertilizers on the hay fields as we found that the animals did not produce enough manure and we didn't have the time to spread manure hauled in.
Our Katahdin sheep flock is part of a UMaine extension research flock working to increase parasite resistence so we monitor the flock's health and only drench when necessary.
We built the cheesery ourselves from timber milled on the farm.
Where do you sell your products?
I was involved in three Farmer's Markets during the summer of 2009 -- Augusta Mill, Waterville and Skowhegan. Our products are also available at Barrels Community Market and Uncle Dean's Good Grocery, both in Waterville, Riverside Cafe in Oakland and Lakeside Orchards in Manchester.
What are the relationships that you have with the buyers like?
The idea of standing around and selling cheese at farmers markets initially terrified me but the buyers have been so friendly and encouraging that I really enjoy that part of the business now.
What is your favorite part of running Kennebec Cheesery?
Being my own boss and producing products from the farm that are appreciated. I also enjoy the view out the window of the cheesery towards Messalonskee Lake while I'm changing milk into yoghurt and cheese. It is very satisfying and magical. I enjoy the interaction with the animals and working with my family on the farm.
How many goats are on the farm? How many milk producing goats do you currently have?
We have 33 goats on the farm at the moment, 30 females (12 of which are this season's doelings) and three males. I was milking 10 goats most of the season. We have dried off three and are now milking only seven.
Do you think the farm will stay this size or do you plan on expanding?
We will get a little bigger. The plan is to have 30+ milkers. We shall see.
Do you think farms like Kennebec Cheesery benefit the surround communities in Maine as compared to larger/corporate farms? If so, how?
I do think small farms benefit the surrounding communities as compared to larger/corporate farms as our products stay local rather than being transported out of state and similarly, we deal with the local, small service businesses.