Valerie Jarvis says she was a "serious city slicker" when she and her family moved to a farm in Gilmanton Iron Works back in 1994. They soon got the hang of farm life, though, raising a dozen chickens and then adding a horse. They worried that the horse was lonely, so they bought a goat to keep the horse company. To keep the goat company, they bought a few more goats. Today Heart Song Farm has more than 100 goats, 40 of them adult milking goats and 25 more that will be milking next year (the rest are babies).The milk is used to make cheese - up to 10,000 pounds of it a year - that's sold to restaurants in New Hampshire and Maine and at farmers markets. Jarvis says she learned the craft from master cheese makers and from "a lot of trial and error along the way." Today Heart Song Farm is not only helping to put New Hampshire on the cheese map, it's providing Jarvis and her very large family with the kind of life the erstwhile city slicker dreamed about.Why is your farm called Heart Song? The wide open spaces and beautiful views from the property made me think of "The Sound of Music" and touched my heart. The name just seemed to sum that feeling up.Is it true you have 10 children, all home-schooled? Yes, I have 10 children (and now five step-children as well). I home-schooled for 20 years and finally put the younger children in public school two years ago. Then I took a long nap.Is everyone working in the business? Each of the children does something, according to their skills. Some feed baby goats their bottles. Some package cheese. Some attend farmers markets and help sell cheese.What do your goats eat, and is it true goats eat tin cans? Our goats eat a high-quality grain and the best hay we can find. They do love the paste on the labels of cans, tape, etc., but only explore with their mouth like babies, rather than eating it.How much time do you spend making cheese each day? I only spend an hour or so per day making cheese. Most of my time, up to 12 hours per day, is spent milking goats, fixing fences, moving
manure, trimming hooves and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.How is artisan cheese different from other cheeses? Everything. Our goats are housed outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine rather than closed in a barn. We handle every aspect of their feed, breeding, etc., producing the best milk. "Cheese" today was "in the goat" two days ago. It can't get any fresher.What's the hardest thing about being a goat cheese maker? It is a lifestyle that tends to tie you down as few people can "cover" for you. It's very hard to make it to school and sporting events as they tend to happen at milking time. Vacations are nearly impossible.What's the best thing? Making cheese is my "art form." I love working for myself and knowing that any gains made from working hard are my gains. Seeing people try goat cheese for the first time and love it makes my day.Ever miss the big city? Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for the place I live in. I never look back.
This article appears in the September 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine