Wellness Weekends: Humboldt Hands: Fifth Generation Dairy Ranchers Come Clean

Humboldt County is gifted with dairy land. Settlers from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Portugal arrived with dairy know-how, making Humboldt home from the mid-1800s.

Long before “Back-to-the-Landers” fled San Franciso in 1969 after the “Summer of Love” and Cannabis became its cash crop, livestock competitions were a regular occurrence on the Plaza in the progressive city of Arcata – otherwise known as “60s by the Sea.”

In fact, prior to the industrial farm revolution of the 1960s, Humboldt County’s largest export was agriculture, with myriad dairies providing milk at the door and wooden dairy carts toting milk bottles to the far corners of the County.

Photo Credit: Sharon Letts - Humboldt dairy farm, Fern Valley Goats is home to more than 900 goats, providing milk for cheese, soap and a future for another generation.
Humboldt dairy farm, Fern Valley Goats is home to more than 900 goats, providing milk for cheese, soap and a future for another generation.

History of Place

Sandra Frye is a fourth generation dairy farmer in the rich and fertile Eel River Valley, home to the historic Victorian village of Ferndale, just south of the County seat of Eureka. Her grandfather migrated from Switzerland in the mid-1850s, with Frye’s father Harold Scilacci born where the family now gathers around the dining room table.

It’s said that the second largest export in Humboldt are its kids, and Frye considers herself part of that movement, leaving the cozy confines of the rural North Coast, marrying and having children of her own, only to return to her roots years later.

“It is interesting as we live our lives, that seasons change and the things that we think in our youth are not important become very important,” Frye said, knowingly. “I am very pleased to have my grandchildren growing up on the family farm in a small community rich in a history of farming.”

Photo Credit: Sharon Letts - Fifth generation Humboldt dairy farmer Stacey Leaton creates resin-eating Humboldt Hands soap from the milk of more than 900 goats on the family farm.
Fifth generation Humboldt dairy farmer Stacey Leaton creates resin-eating Humboldt Hands soap from the milk of more than 900 goats on the family farm.

Changing Times

Daughter Stacey got hooked on goats during an after school milking gig, then proceeded to set up a goat ranch in nearby Carlotta with boyfriend (now husband) Chris Leaton.

“They dated, fell in love, married and are now raising a family of and with goats,” Frye said of the happy couple whose flock now consists of more than 900 goats and four small children on the family farm.

More sustainable and easier on the land, Frye made the switch to goats when the Leaton’s ranch hit overflow, beginning a longtime relationship as the leading goat milk supplier to Humboldt’s own Cypress Grove Chever, an internationally acclaimed goat cheese producer.

Stacey said she had wanted to make soap from the goat’s milk after hearing of its superior qualities. When she developed recipes, Humboldt Hands was a happy accident, springing forth from a need to get her husband’s farming hands clean.

“I was working on a recipe for a scrubby bar for Chris,” Stacey explained. “The book I was using for a reference indicated to add ground walnut shells until they floated. I did not get exactly what that meant, so I just kept dumping them in the pot of hot soap, and we ended up with a soap that was way too aggressive for the shower, but boy did it clean hands!”

Chris sent the bars to buddies for testing – commercial fisherman, lumbermen, farm hands, and the “guys in the hills,” aka: trimmers – all approved, stating it cleaned up grease, epoxy, motor oil, and that pesky resin from Humboldt’s finest.

Up at four in the morning, Stacey makes up to 70 pounds of soap before she and Chris’ own four kids (not goats) hit the floor. What began in the kitchen now takes up a work room by the barn with plans for an expansion.

Original recipes for Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap, Hum Bug (soap bugs hate), Humboldt Scrub (scented with Mahogany), Goat Milk Lotion(s) (scented with honey, sweet pea, vanilla sugar, and cucumber melon) are all made daily and distributed to retail stores throughout the region.

Of its most popular line, Humboldt Hands, matriarch Frye said, “This is Humboldt County and Cannabis is a large part of the economy here – it has been for years. Our business is farming. Our goal is to develop a business that will allow the family to continue to farm the land, make a living and have opportunity for the sixth generation to enjoy the same wonderful lifestyle that farm life provides.”

For more information on Humboldt Hands, Humboldt Scrub and other Fern Valley Goats products, visit www.fernvalleygoats.com , or call (707) 786-9664.

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