Hodapp’s Berry and Dairy is proving otherwise. The small farm is situated on a gravel road part way up the Old Spiral Highway, only 10 minutes from downtown Lewiston. Since the farm opened in April, hundreds of people have visited to pick strawberries and buy cheeses, produce, flowers, eggs and other farm fresh offerings.
It’s a working farm, with no shortage of work.
“Just a minute, I’ve got two escapees I’ve gotta take care of,” said Greg Hodapp, owner and resident goat wrangler, one recent August morning.
He threw some feed in a bucket, shaking it around while calling out to the goats. Dandelion and Mary immediately lost interest in the prickly lettuce they’d discovered and headed toward the fancier fare. They didn’t even notice the gate close behind them after Hodapp walked into their pen with his bucket full of bribery.
By that time, all the goats had gathered and wanted in on the party. They range in size, color and length of horns, a curious, bleating mix of long-eared Nubians and earless La Manchas.
“They have a lot of personality,” Hodapp said, after leaving the pen and locking the gate behind him.
It’s an affectionate description, considering their trouble making. Earlier this season, they provided some unwanted pruning of newly planted fruit trees. Even so, they’re a fairly mellow bunch, except for Daisy, an endearing, yet occasionally aggressive hermaphrodite who exhibits both male and female physical biology and instincts. This is not uncommon among goats.
In these hot, spent days of August, there are six goats in the herd of 11 producing about a gallon each day. This provides all of the milk and cheese Hodapp sells both directly from the farm and at the Moscow Farmers Market.
“Goat milk is called the universal milk,” Hodapp said.
Because the milk proteins and fat globules are smaller, goat milk is easier to digest, both for humans and other animals. But that’s not always convincing enough for people unaccustomed to the stuff.
“Most people are a little leery of goat milk,” Hodapp said.
Sometimes it’s simple unfamiliarity. Other times the hesitation is born of a bad experience with grocery store goat milk or cheese, which Hodapp said can stink or taste unpleasant. Not so with milk from his farm.
“It’s really sweet; it’s really mild — it tastes pretty much like cow’s milk,” Hodapp said.
When it’s time to be milked, the goats push and shove for their turn in the milking shed — the feed they get while being milked must be pretty good stuff. One at a time each goat is let into the shed where she climbs up onto the milking platform and is held in place while she eats. All the goats are milked by hand rather than machine.
“It’s cleaner, it’s faster and it’s less stressful for the animals,” Hodapp said.
Once everything is clean and ready, Hodapp carefully places the milking pot so that it won’t get kicked over. A stream of milk hits the stainless steel vessel and a layer of froth grows above the rising level of milk. The milking isn’t difficult — even a farm newbie can catch on pretty quick (see accompanying video story).
As the milking continues, a loud knock comes from outside. It’s just Myrtle, Hodapp explained. She butts her head against the wall to remind him she’s ready for her turn.
Some goats can be milked in ten minutes. Others take longer. After the process is complete, milk is filtered and then chilled in a food production trailer a few yards from the milking shed. Milk destined to top crackers or eggs as a chevre is poured into a large pot, where cheese cultures and rennet are added. It’s left to sit overnight before being strained and flavored.
The goat milk and cheeses have been popular with customers, but operational costs of running a raw milk dairy and farm have been a challenge, Hodapp said. He’s part of a stringent program that tests the goats and milk to ensure consumer safety. Even with these safety structures in place to minimize risk, buying insurance for the raw milk dairy operation has been cost prohibitive for Hodapp.
Recent milk tests have indicated low-level inflammation in one or more of his goats. It’s not a bacterial infection and it isn’t a health risk to consumers, but the elevated numbers have left him unable to sell dairy products for three weeks. It’s a heavy blow for someone relying on that income.
Because of the test results, Hodapp is ramping down milk production for the fall a bit early. He’s hopeful he will be able to start back up in the spring.
But there’s more to the farm than cheese and milk. Rows of ripe strawberries drew a hundred people a week earlier this summer. The day-neutral plants produce all season if conditions are right. The hot weather puts the plants into a dormant state but they’ll start back up again once the weather cools a bit, he said.
“Right now, the pheasants are making off with most of my strawberries,” Hodapp said. He laughed and wondered if he might find a market for strawberry-fed pheasant meat this fall.
With his warm location on the hill, Hodapp has a number of heat loving crops like lavender, rosemary and grapes. “It’s absolutely perfect for grapes,” Hodapp said.
He’s focusing on seedless table grape varieties like Jupiter and Reliance that he plans to offer as a u-pick opportunity. There are 80 grape plants in the ground, though it will take a couple years before they’re at full production.
This is small farm number three for Hodapp, who has worked on a number of farms in Wisconsin where he grew up. In recent years he was a ranger at Hells Gate State Park before he began farming full time last November. His focus is on sustainable agriculture.
“For me that means farming in a way that can allow me to farm on a space indefinitely without negatively impacting soil fertility or the ecosystem,” Hodapp said.
The farm’s self-serve store, located in a truck trailer, is closed for the season, but goods are still available for purchase at the Moscow Farmers Market. Updates on u-pick opportunities and available goods can be found on the Hodapp’s Berry and Dairy Facebook page or at www.hodappsberryanddairy.com.