What keeps Redwood Hill Farm still thriving after all these years
Editor’s note: As part of a series on the Sonoma County dairy community, here we profile Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol, which for more than 50 years has produced high-quality goat milk products in a sustainable, humane manner.
For the past 50 years, the people behind Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol have taken a redwood-lined ridge and turned it into a nirvana for goats. Along the way, they also became the producers of the only goat milk kefir and yogurt available around the country.
The farm started out during the back-to-the-land era in the 1960s as an ambitious 4-H project for the children of the Bice family, who moved from Southern California to Sebastopol in the late ’60s.
The farm later evolved into a professional hub for breeding and showing goats as well as for making artisan dairy products acclaimed for their velvety texture, slightly tart flavor and nutrient-dense components.
For some people, goat milk is more easily digested than cow’s milk.
“The fat particles are small, which makes it easier to digest but also gives it a creaminess,” said Jennifer Bice, whose parents founded the original farm and goat dairy in 1968. “The casein protein in cow’s milk can create allergies, so goat milk was considered more medicinal.”
As we try to refresh our healthy eating routines this month after the holidays, why not prepare a delicious brunch that incorporates the handcrafted dairy of this longtime local company?
The Redwood Hill Kefir, which comes in two flavors, is a versatile product that can be substituted for buttermilk in quick breads and muffins and provide added nutrition to breakfast dishes like pancakes. The kefir also can give a creamy tang to morning smoothies, as well as dressings and marinades.
Kefir is a fermented drink made by adding kefir grains to milk. These are not cereal grains, but grain-like colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
The yogurt, which comes in four flavors, is a perfect dance partner with fruit salads. It adds tang to vinaigrettes and can even be strained overnight to make a creamy, spreadable goat “cheese.”
According to the Redwood Hill Farm website, goat milk contains 18% more calcium, 43% more potassium, 40% more magnesium and 104% more vitamin A than whole cow’s milk.
The structure of the goat milk is delicate, however, so the farm handles the milk carefully to avoid the stronger flavors that often turn people away from goat’s milk.
“The key is to keep the barn clean and chill the milk right away,” said Scott Bice, farm manager and Jennifer’s youngest brother. “We pump it at lower speeds because it’s fragile.”
Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, the Bice family sold their raw goat milk in glass bottles door to door. Then the natural food stores began clamoring for their goat milk products for their health-conscious customers.
“My parents started bottling raw milk, then they developed the kefir in the 1970s,” said Scott Bice. “They made cartons of Black Cherry Kefir.”
In 1978, after her parents had closed the dairy, Jennifer Bice and her late husband, Steven Schack, bought the dairy and reopened it, starting out with the original product — raw milk in glass bottles.
Through the years, thanks to a combination of hard work and good fortune, the couple grew the business into a national brand, adding yogurt in 1982 and cheese in 1994, just as pioneering chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse were highlighting goat cheese on their menus.
“In the ’80s, it was the start of California cuisine, now known as farm to table,” Jennifer Bice said. “That really brought awareness to our products.”
As consumer demand continued to grow, the company outgrew their production facility on the farm and opened a new creamery in 2003 in a former apple plant in Graton.
Today, fermented foods like goat yogurt and kefir are growing popular again for their high nutrition and probiotics. According to registered dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman, who writes about digestive health for U.S. News, eating probiotic-rich foods is an important strategy for overall health, since the bacteria in our guts plays a key role in immune function, which helps protect us against disease.
In addition, there’s a new generation of young consumers who are mindful of buying products that are not only delicious but good for the environment.
“Goats have a lower environmental impact on the world,” said Jennifer Bice, who has always run the farm in a sustainable manner. The farm uses solar panels for all of its energy and a recycled water system for irrigation. Redwood Hill became the first Certified Humane goat diary in the U.S. in 2005 because of its high quality of care for the animals.