Drive down Orchard Lake Road toward Pontiac. Watch the strip malls recede into clean and refreshing nature. Park by the Goldner Walsh greenhouse and walk to the stone amphitheater. Beyond the amphitheater is a barn housing goats belonging to City Girls Soap, a family farm and small business owned by Amy and John McIntire, which uses goats’ milk to create high quality skincare products that are sold locally.
Three exasperatingly curious and adorably affectionate Oberhasli goats graze on land owned by Goldner Walsh, a nine-acre nursery and the longest running business in Pontiac. The City Girls Soap production room is also in the Goldner Walsh premises. The production space, aromatic with the scent of orange and lemon essential oils, was transformed from a biodiesel production facility.
City Girls Soap creates products that transcend socioeconomic class and location. The demand for goat milk soap is not just a Detroit thing. Skincare products made with goat milk is rich with natural exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acid and moisturizing glycerin, which most commercial soaps lack, causing damaged and tight skin. The desire for quality handcrafted products, which extends to knowing the ingredients and who made it, is universal. You can find them at Eastern Market, Whole Foods in Detroit and Troy, local artisanal fairs, all Westborn Markets, and Simply Good in Birmingham.
Amy said, “We never wanted to focus on Detroit. People ask if we are shooting for the wealthy suburbanite. We have all economic ranges buying our stuff, which is for anybody who wants a good product that is good for them.”
Amy and John were initially inspired by a goat milk soap article in Oprah’s magazine. Amy wanted to establish a farm in Detroit, but it proved difficult. The problem with Detroit was the bureaucracy and strict regulations that prevent businesses like theirs from flourishing the way they can in different cities.
“We met with city officials and state senators,” Amy explained. “Everybody said no. Detroit is very anti-livestock. We couldn’t risk our business by breaking the law. Tim Travis, owner of Goldner Walsh, said ‘If you clean this out, it can be yours.’ While we haven’t announced ourselves in Pontiac, we haven’t gotten any push back. Pontiac [like Detroit] is also under an emergency manager and is also in need of small businesses investing in community.”
The goats love to play and climb, exploring anything new with their mouths first. They go crazy for banana peels and literally butt heads to assert dominance. Petting them is fine, but stay away from their ears and tails. Like innocent children, their first instinct is to love and they will trot to the shyest newcomer because everyone is their new friend. Sophie is the queen, Winnie is in the middle and Wren is the companion, kept because he is sweet. John and Amy have promised that Sophie, Winnie and Wren will always stay in the family.
Sophie and Winnie recently went on “goat dates” with a buck from a different farm. The McIntires hope the goats will give birth around May 2015.
“I have five months to read about babies,” Amy said. “If I need to jam my hand up there to turn a kid, I know I can do it. I already learned how to give a Vitamin B shot in their muscular when they are not feeling well. I was a nervous wreck, but I found the muscle.”
If kids are born, then the two best females will be kept and raised for their milk. If the surplus kids are female, then they will be sold to 4H, and if the surplus kids are male, they will be sold for meat.
Goats only produce milk after they give birth. When their udders expand, Amy hand-milks them. The milk is heated and mixed with lye and scented ingredients. Amy is particularly proud of using honey made at the Georgia Street Community Collective near Eastern Market. The soap goes into wood molds created by students from Detroit Community High School.
Exposing farming, creating jobs and showing how business works to local at-risk youth has always been key in the City Girls Soap business plan. They won the “Women Rock” prize sponsored by Michigan Women’s Foundation in June 2014 for aiming “to provide employment opportunities for young people in Pontiac, to address the troubling lack of job opportunities for youth, beginning with summer employment.”
Their ambition does not stop there. The company has doubled their sales every year and has exceeded their break even point, which can be measured at 4,000 bars a year. They plan to add lotion to their line, sell their products as far as Chicago and evolve into an urban dairy that uses goat milk to make cheese and ice cream.
For more information visit the City Girls Soap website.
All photos by Nick Hagen.