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Exclusive soap line benefits Bethesda Academy

Sam I Am is one lucky guy.

Blue–eyed and shaggy, he’s the sole male in a herd of 33 Nigerian Dwarf Goats that graze in the back fields of Bethesda Academy off Ferguson Ave.

Sam’s job is to sire baby dwarf goats, and the ruminating sultan has performed admirably with his harem: Every female kidded last spring (yes, “kid” is a verb in goat herding lingo) and Shay says most of them are already pregnant again.

Sam’s productivity also means plenty of milk.

Hallowed for their easy maintenance and ability to eat down unwanted landscape, dwarf dairy goats have gained popularity on small–scale farms like Bethesda. Farm manager Reid Archer added the original herd of 13 a year and a half ago to Bethesda’s dynamic organic farming program, which includes almost two acres of sprawling vegetable gardens and a flock of 375 chickens. Archer and assistant director Kerry Shay oversee the program’s four acres and provide “work experience” lessons to Bethesda’s all–male student body.

Teaching teenage boys how to milk a goat udder was challenge that brought some snickers at first, says Shay with a grin, but “after a while they got used to it.”

Even though they allowed the kids to nurse naturally instead of weaning them early as in standard farm practice, there was still more milk than the farmers could manage. The distribution of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Georgia, so the gallons collected could not be served in the school cafeteria, nor could it be sold at Bethesda’s weekly farm stand that proffers fresh eggs and produce.

“Starting a dairy or a creamery was a lot more planning than we were ready for once we read the USDA regulations,” says Shay. “So we started researching other ways we could use it.”

Archer and Shay quickly found that goat’s milk is revered for its moisturizing properties in high–end beauty products. They contacted Shosanna Walker, who sells her hand–crafted bath goods at Nourish at Broughton Street.

“I already knew Reid and Kerry from the farmer’s market, and I always seek out Bethesda produce,” says Walker, who also runs Nourish retail shops in Hilton Head and Melbourne, FL. “We’ve been wanting to make a goat’s milk soap for a while, and I kept thinking ‘if only we could get local milk…’”

That inspired what could be the season’s most creative local partnership: Thick bars of sweet–smelling goat’s milk soap, branded with both the Bethesda and Nourish logos. Available in Orange Tangerine and Lavender Rosemary through the holidays, the soap sells for $7 a bar at Nourish as well as at Bethesda’s farm stand and Forsyth Farmers Market booth. A dollar from each bar goes back to Bethesda Academy.

Founded in 1740 as an orphanage, Bethesda Academy now serves over 120 middle and high school boys from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom receive some amount of financial aid to supplement their tuition. In addition to the organic farming program, the campus offers other work experience opportunities through traditional and alternative curricula, including video production and wildlife management. The school is funded entirely from private donations, grants, fundraisers and small scale ventures like the Thursday campus farm stand and Saturday morning farmers market. The school also sells produce to Leoci’s, The Sentient Bean and other local restaurants.

Walker and her husband, Corey, try to use local and organic products at their production warehouse on President’s Street and jumped at the chance to be further involved with this long–standing jewel of the Savannah community.
The Walkers add about half gallon of goat’s milk to a batch of 88 bars, which also include organic coconut oil, olive oil and shea butter. Goat’s milk soap is recommended for psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions, but Walker promises that everyone will enjoy the creamy lather.

She also says the Bethesda bars have been flying off the shelves at Nourish.

“It looks like we’ll have to make more batches soon,” she remarks, examining the dwindling display.

That’s excellent news, because Shay reports that there’s still plenty of milk in Bethesda’s freezer. And with more kids on the way, there will likely be enough for another round of soaps for the 2013 holiday season.

Can we expect Bethesda’s Nigerian dwarf goats to create a sustainable source of income for the school year round?
Standing in front of the electrified fence (goats are notorious escape artists,) Shay reaches over and pets Sam on the head.

“We’ll see,” he says. “He’s a busy guy.”