Jennifer Lynn Bice’s love of goats started young, when her and her nine siblings joined 4-H in the small town of Sebastopol, CA and began raising goats. With five or six goats to a child, they soon became beloved pets, with individual names and tricks taught by the family. With 50 or 60 goats on their property in such a tight-knit community, it wasn’t a surprise that local health food stores started calling the family asking for goat milk, which was much less commercially available in the late 1960s, before health food stores became mainstream. The goat milk became so popular, the family built a legal dairy and began selling raw goat milk in glass bottles to stores. At the time, goat milk was seen as more medicinal rather than a cow dairy alternative.
Although the dairy closed down after a few years as Bice’s parents retired and many of the kids didn’t want to continue the business, in 1978, Bice and her husband reopened the dairy with the help of four of her siblings and Redwood Hill Farms was born. Recalls Bice, “We didn’t want it just to be an adjunct business; we wanted to have it be real.” In order to make this a reality, Redwood Hill began making yogurt and cheese to expand their product line and increase sales.
Their sales were mostly limited to health food stores until the 1980s when their business grew exponentially, due to the rise of local product-based California cuisine. Restaurants such as Chez Panisse and other celebrity chef restaurants started using goat cheese in their dishes, changing the perception of the cheese from “medicinal” to a higher-end food product, elevating awareness of Bice’s product and creating a new demand.
Redwood Hill Farms now produces yogurt, kefir, French-style rind-ripened cheese, fresh chèvre, feta and more from their goats’ milk. “We have 300 goats on the farm,” Bice explains, “and we’ve bred from the same bloodline of goats—four types: Alpine, Nubian, Faanen and La Mancha—that we’ve had on the farm since I was a child.” It’s not just the products are for sale; her registered purebred goats are sold and shipped all over North America.
In 2010, Redwood Hill introduced a cow dairy line of products—Green Valley Organics—with dairy from two third-generations farms in nearby Petaluma. However, it’s not just your average milk; they convert the dairy to lactose-free, a welcome alternative to soy, almond or other various nut milks on the market right now.
These days, Redwood Hills is the first certified humane goat dairy in the United States and certified green, with 100% of their energy coming from renewable resources. Although the creamery was sold to a coalition of Swiss dairy farmers this past December, Bice still owns the farm and the goats, where she can recognize each and every one, just likes in her childhood days. Bice laughs. “Sometimes I feel like it’s just an overgrown 4-H project.”
Visit Redwood Hill Farm’s website here.