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Small Farm with Big Dreams

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Every once in awhile, university students ask to write about our farm for their university classes. This is one delightful description!

Emmalyn Youngren was one such young woman and did a wonderful job so we thought we'd share it with all of you, our farm family!

It’s time. The nosy orange cat is stuck to mama goat’s side like gum to a shoe. Orange Midwife Kitty, she goes by. Mama goat’s belly bulges, holding a new four-legged life inside. Orange Midwife Kitty kneads at her belly, illustrating comfort and reassurance to mama goat. Her cat sense knows what’s coming. Its time for a baby goat to enter this world. Life on Meadowlark Heritage Farm is cordial, adventurous and attentive. Charlene Rathbun, with her husband and children’s support, has been delving headfirst into selling her goat’s milk for the last 10 years.

About 11 years ago, Rathbun and her family found a perfect piece of land nestled away in the rolling hills of Moscow, Idaho. The property was littered with meadowlarks constantly chirping their tune. The rising sun would peak up between the hills and hide there at night. The wind whipped through the property as if it was late for something. They built a large farmhouse there, that was accessible for their daughter who has cerebral palsy. Two storybook idyllic big barns were built adjacent. Wanting and needing the best for her special-needs daughter, Rathbun bought two goats to provide a quality milk source for her food allergies.

With alternative milk becoming more popular because of nutritional value, Rathbun figured she was on to something. According to an article from the Washington Post, “dairy goat herds expanded faster than any other major livestock group over the past decade, growing 61 percent between 2007 and 2017.” As the amount of goat milk became too much for Rathbun’s family to consume, different ideas about what to do with it popcorned around her mind. Little did Rathbun know that the idea she settled on to make goat soap would be the answer to her daughter’s skin issue and growing community demand.

Rathbun started with three soaps. After the word got out and customers began to flock, three turned into 32 varieties. After listening to what other products their customers wanted, pretty soon they were raising goats, cows, chickens, and alpacas to sell their milk and eggs. Rathbun likes to see her business as how one customer put it, “a circle of service and need.” Her love for these animals and customers, having a business from home, along with the production process of her merchandise grew as time went on. She knew there was more opportunity for her out there as entrepreneurship began to hold an enthralling place in her heart.

Rathbun was given the good fortune to sell her goat soap and other products at the Moscow Farmers Market on Saturdays. This evolved into selling at local shows, in neighboring cities, Vineyards, the Moscow Food Co-op, to every corner of the United States and now online. People also come to the farm and buy straight out of the soap production room, which is on the verge of overflowing. Rathbun is in the process of expanding to successfully fulfill her business needs. She is renovating a room in the animal’s barn into a little store and hoping to open within the year. She plans to sell her soaps, duck and chicken eggs, goat milk, jersey cow milk, and other local small business products in her store to make it a community feel.

More opportunities have also presented themselves to Rathbun. With most of her children grown and out of the house, it only made sense to transform one side of their big farmhouse into an Airbnb. Between Washington State University and the University of Idaho events, their occupancy is suitable. However, the special relationships built with guests has urged Rathbun to try and reel visitors into coming just to stay on the farm and not simply for a school function. Rathbun began concocting ideas for farm events.

One plan in the making is sunset hikes with the curious goats scampering behind, playing their favorite game; follow the leader. Having a completely handicap accessible property, the inclusivity is alluring. Another Moscow small business, Sisters Cookie Company owner, Connie Rosendahl, especially appreciates this aspect. Rathbun and Rosendahl became friends through both having special needs children. “I became interested in Meadowlark Heritage Farm because of the specialized accessibility for farm tours, their pathways, and the friendship between Charlene and me,” Rosendahl said.

Amidst a beneficial location and products that are fulfilling the needs of customers, obstacles do lie in the path of Rathbun’s future endeavors. Knowing limitations and conforming to new dynamics have been crucial, Rathbun said. She has recently begun taking marketing classes, to match society’s demand for a strong branding. Heather Perley has been the answer to Rathbun’s other obstacle of maintaining enough farm help. Perley helps milk the goats, make the soap and keep the materials organized. “Making products that you know people will enjoy, spurs you to do a better job,” Perley said. Having personal experience with her employer on the farm is calming and inspiring, she said.

Out of all her siblings, Rathbun’s parents never thought she would be the one living on a farm doing the things she’s doing, Rathbun said. Rathbun can’t imagine a better way to learn every life lesson than to raise her children on Meadowlark Heritage Farm. “I want to give a rich heritage to my kids, meaning a strong work ethic, a strong sense of family and to enjoy nature,” Rathbun said.

~Emalyne Youngren, WSU student

Source List:

- Charlene Rathbun. owner of Meadowlark Heritage Farm: (face-to-face interview)

- Heather Perley, employee of Meadowlark Heritage Farm: (face-to-face interview)

- Connie Rosendahl, Owner of Sisters Cookies: (phone interview)


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