Sure, it’s relatively everyday to see a woman welcome you to her place with a kid in her arms. But it’s much more unusual for that woman to have a baby goat kind of kid in her arms. For that, you need to be greeted by Stephanie Simonin to Happy Acres Family Farm in Templeton. “It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here,” she says. “You leave your grownup side behind. It’s a passion of mine to see people experience it. They feel like they’re going back in time. Plus, it’s good for people to know where their food is coming from.”
Where it comes from at Happy Acres is 56 certified organic acres, most of which is roamed by goats, more than 200 at this point. They’ll hitch up their front legs on the fence to eat the peanuts Simonin provides and look you straight in the eye with their beguiling rectangular pupils. But that’s just the beginning of the tour, for in two hours you will get to milk a goat yourself, find out the temperature of new milk, tour the cheese-making facility wearing a decidedly non–fashion-friendly set of booties and hairnet, and get to mix your own goat cheese flavorings, from herb to sundried tomato. All that activity will be narrated by the gregarious Simonin, so be ready for her stream of puns to no doubt get your, er, goat.
She’s certainly a cheerleader for the sustainable, goat-filled life. “We had a field trip of 90 1st graders the other day,” she explained, “and 85 percent of them thought that milk could come from boy goats and girl goats. A hundred years ago, kids didn’t know what a Nintendo DS was, but I’m sure they knew milk came from a girl goat.” She does realize she can get a bit too over-the-top with her zeal for illustrating the more pastoral life, adding, “Do I sound Little House on the Prairie-ish?” and then adopting an overdone hickish accent to add, “Someone come tie my corset!”
Simonin’s Happy Acres story begins with Stella, her first goat, originally purchased to nurse an orphan calf (Simonin’s husband is a cattle rancher). “I got her in order to bottle-feed a calf,” she recalled, “but the goat was so cool she let the calf suck right off of her. We just made the ramp taller as they grew.” Later, when one of Simonin’s children had some health problems, she read that goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk, so gave her child goat milk. “Things cleared up, so that’s when I became totally obsessed,” she claimed. “That’s when the whole project started to form.”
Or perhaps that’s starting “to farm,” as Happy Acres also features organically grown produce and an unusual mix of alpacas, hens, miniature donkeys, and horses. The operation is overseen by Simonin, and her mother, Laurie Scattini, who came onboard to make the cheese and develop goat-milk skincare, from cleansers to lotions. In general, it’s a female-run farm, for as Simonin explained, “The goats respond well to gentle words and gentle touch. They are very social animals. My goats respond well to having names and their pampered lifestyle. They wouldn’t know what to do if they were suddenly a number.”
That pampering leads to cheese and goat-milk ice cream in demand not only in the finest restaurants in S.L.O. County, like Templeton’s McPhee’s Grill and Santa Margarita’s The Range, but now also in northern Santa Barbara County in esteemed spots like Full of Life Flatbread, Los Olivos Café, and Root 246 in Solvang. “My parents promised it at a tasting event recently,” Simonin said, “so now, apparently, we’re shipping cheese in California. But only here — we pride ourselves on the freshness of our cheese and don’t want to compromise that.”
Simonin still prefers people come to the farm not just to buy but also to learn. They can even just stop in to buy fresh eggs and produce at the new farm stand. “It used to be a nursery, but the nursery closed down,” she explained. “They tore the building down, then dropped it off for me with no directions on how to put it back together.” Luckily, a handy neighbor offered to figure it out, and, Simonin said, “It looked like a pile of junk when it got here, but now it’s the cutest thing ever … except for my goats.”
Treat yourself to a teat-pull and a great day at the farm by booking a tour at Happy Acres Family Farm (1955 Templeton Rd., Templeton). Call 434-7580 or see happyacresfamilyfarm.net.