Gracie and I have been blessed. We live on twenty acres well outside of town. We raise goats and make cheese, which we sell everywhere we can in Southern Utah. We have a healthy son, now seven years old, who goes to a very good public school and does well there.
We don’t have a lot of money, but we have an incredible amount of freedom. And that’s a worthwhile exchange.
I spent years punching a clock in Los Angeles, building up a retirement fund that went broke when the tech bubble burst. With the California economy in tatters and promises of a new beginning failing to materialize, I sold what I had and moved to Utah.
That’s where I met Gracie, who had moved from the Rocky Mountains with her family some years before. Together we built the cheese business. It took all the money we had, and took a few detours along the way, but these days it’s putting food on the table.
Gracie and I work together, as a team, making our decisions together, raising our son together. We set our own hours and take responsibility for our own success or failure. If we take a vacation, we don’t sell cheese that week, and we have to live with the consequences of that. Which means we learn to plan for it.
Our ranch is located in rural Iron County. We live, basically, in the middle of nowhere. We’re just two miles of dirt road from the interstate, but our nearest neighbor, Steve Peck, lives a half mile away to the south. To the north, east, and west, there isn’t another house for miles.
The town of Paragonah is only five miles from us, and that’s where we get our mail. If we went to church, that’s where we’d go. It’s a small town of 500 people, and there aren’t any businesses there.
Parowan, eight miles away, is the county seat; it has a courthouse, a small grocery store, a hardware store, three gas stations, and a handful of restaurants.
The closest “big box” store, movie theater, or hospital is in Cedar City, twenty-five miles south of us. Cedar has 30,000 people, half the county’s residents. It has a bustling main street, complete with traffic lights. It boasts four grocery stores, three feed stores, an office supply store, two movie theatres, and even a handful of factories. But if you want to shop at a department store, you’ll need to drive to St. George, population 100,000, which is fifty miles further south.
Often, Cedar City seems very distant. Our ranch is so isolated and peaceful that it’s easy to forget there is another world out there. We’re on the floor of a high-desert valley, surrounded by sagebrush. Our house sits at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, but we are surrounded by mountains that to rise as high as 11,000 feet. Much of the year, they are covered with snow. In May, it can be ninety degrees on the valley floor, yet all around us are snow-capped mountains. In some ways, it’s like living in a postcard.
We love making cheese. It’s satisfying to take a raw material – milk – and turn it into a delicious artisan product that people enjoy. It’s “artisan” cheese because we make it in small batches, not factories. Our vat has a 150-gallon capacity. If that seems like a lot, consider that most cheese factories produce 100,000 pounds of cheese every day, or more.
If that sounds like a canned pitch, it’s because I say it a dozen times a month at least. We sell at all the farmers markets in the area. There are three on Saturday – I take one, Gracie takes another, and we hire someone to do the third. There’s another on Wednesday, which Gracie and Joe and I all do together. And we do music festivals, wine tastings, and a handful of other events throughout the year. The market is seasonal – we sell far more cheese in summer than in winter.
Our cheese is seasonal, as well. Our goats produce milk nine months out of the year; we dry them out at year-end so they can give birth in March. By April, we’re up and running again. That’s the natural cycle of things.
A lot of people are so far removed from the source of their food, they don’t understand seasonal cycles. They expect to find a decent tomato in January. And they don’t understand why our goats can’t produce year-round. Many don’t realize that a goat has to give birth before she will produce milk. Just like human beings.
But then, some folks forget that milk actually comes from animals at all. When I sell cheese at events, I invariably meet people who make faces when I suggest that their cheese comes from cows, goats, or sheep. I can almost hear their inner voice: “Ick!”
Our friend who grows vegetables gets similar responses at times from people who didn’t realize vegetables grow in dirt: “Ick!”
Cheese comes from milk, and milk comes from animals. We do buy cow milk from another dairy, but the animals we raise are goats. We bring them into the world at their birthing, we get to know their personalities as we milk them, and we mourn them when they die. Yes, our goats are part of the family. Asni was the first doe we buried. She died during a bad birthing, despite us nursing her night and day for five straight days. And she wasn’t the last. We have cried as they gave their last breaths, and said prayers over their graves when we buried them in the back yard. There are eight goats buried there now, and I remember each and every one.
This is where food comes from, and this is the cycle of life. We bring them in, we see them out. And in the process, we enjoy their company – and are reminded that we, too, are subject to that cycle. As we come in, so shall we depart.