by Sabine Rhyne
This is kind of a love story… When Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell of Big Picture Farm met at Middlebury College, they emerged as an art teacher and a writer, and you can no doubt imagine the first part of the love story. Louisa was teaching art to some children of the folks who run Blue Ledge Farm, and they began to assist with the cheesemaking up there. And there’s where the second part of the love story emerges: they fell in love with goats.
So Louisa and Lucas began to think about farming with goats, and they strategized where to locate to pursue their dream. Upon looking over the Vermont Cheese Map, they decided that southern Vermont was not as well served with goat cheese and other goat products, so they ultimately moved to the area and joined forces with Ann and Bob Works at Peaked Mountain Farm near Townshend. That same year, they got their first three goats as wedding presents from friends. They worked with Ann and Bob for several years, milking sheep and making cheese. When Bob and Ann retired, they sold Louisa and Lucas part of the land and the barn. Ann has continued to work alongside Louisa and Lucas on occasion, helping out and advising.
This mentoring and legacy cycle is a strong theme in the local young producer story. As Louisa and Lucas benefited from learning the trade, they are mentoring another young couple who have been working at Big Picture Farm, milking goats and packing and shipping the caramels, and who are about to strike out on their own as well.
But Big Picture Farm is only now beginning to make cheese. As you may well know, their claim to fame is the luscious goat milk caramels that many have discovered over the past three years. In the fall of 2010, they kicked things off with their online store. This was a result of a re-focusing strategy they embarked on, after realizing that they needed a product on which to base their farm. Cheese takes some time to age, and often the success of a product is only hinted at until the full aging process takes place. Caramels, on the other hand, have a relatively short lifespan—especially once you taste them—and they launched a beautifully branded product line. They started selling caramels nationwide the summer of 2012 (their caramel was named best confection by the specialty food association that year), and hit their full stride with caramels in the summer of 2013. They are now beginning the cheese production in earnest. The Brattleboro Food Co-op and Provisions, a specialty foods distributor, are their exclusive accounts for cheese at the moment. Big Picture Farm opened a packing store this year in Townshend, right next to Grace Cottage, where they also sell caramels at retail. This space houses all of their generations of wrapping machines. They began wrapping by hand, then graduated to a 1918 wrapping machine, and now use a 1970s vintage machine.
Louisa’s craft as an artist is immediately evident in the presentation of their caramels. Beautiful, whimsical line drawings of goats grace the website, the boxes, and the wraps. She showed us mockups of their new 4-flavor boxes, with seasonal paintings for the tops, in preparation for a fancy food show they are heading out to.
Big Picture Farm is on the side of Peaked Mountain in Townshend, a beautiful wooded hillside with several pastures surrounding a horse barn from the early 1800s. This barn houses the goats and the milking parlor, their office, and their “cold room” for the caramels. Although caramels may not be considered as persnickety as cheese, they have demands of a low-humidity 60-degree space. Some times of year, this is a particular
challenge! The day that we were visiting, new solar panels were in the process of being installed down the hill, to provide the power for the dairy. Up at the barn, the 34 goats all trotted out to meet us, as did Elvis and Josie, their Maremma guard dogs. It should come as no surprise that the goats all have names, and Louisa and Lucas are quick to point out the lineage and personalities of each and every one. After all, remember, this is a love story.
Visit the Co-op on Thursday, February 6, from 11am to 1pm, and try some farmstead goat milk caramels!