Twelve years ago, Janet and John Locey’s Bell Hill Farm property—situated in one of the more bucolic places in Hollister near the De Rose Winery on 10900 Cienega Road—was covered with poison oak. Left untended, poison oak can destroy anything around it. However, the Loceys had the perfect foil in the form of their Alpine goats, who eat poison oak as a delicacy.
“We wanted to get the poison oak under control, and the goats did that,” Janet says. “One of the goats had a baby, but the baby died. Her milk came in, but I had never milked a goat before. Long story short, we ended up with a dairy goat farm. We didn’t know it was possible.”
In death came a wellspring of life. Using milk from their Alpine dairy goats, the Loceys—married for 45 years—make all of their soaps and lotions on-site, handmade in small batches. The retired couple fell into the business—they do the majority of their sales online at henscratchquiling.com—which has given them another way to display their talents.
“This supplements our income and gives us meaningful work,” says John, 68, a former maintenance manager at Gilroy Foods.
The benefits of using handmade soaps and lotions are immense. Goat milk itself contains alpha hydroxyl acid, which can help remove dead cells from the skin. It also has a high fat content, which can help hydrate the skin.
The Loceys’ handcrafted lotions and soaps—which are also sold at San Benito Bene, the St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista and the Nimble Thimble Quilt Shop in Gilroy—are 100 percent all-natural ingredients—meaning it’s good for the body and the environment.
Janet spends a couple of hours in the mornings and evenings milking the goats. To make the soap, Janet fills two rectangular-shaped trays with milk before letting it set for 36 hours. She uses a specially designed cutter to separate the bars, which then have to be cured for 30 days. Once the soap bars are cut, all the edges are beveled and wrapped up for distribution. The Loceys’ soaps and lotions have a distinct fragrance to them, filled with an intoxicating blend of all-natural ingredients that leaves you wanting more.
The best selling soap is The Man Soap, although Janet points out “women love it, too.”
“I think it smells like men’s aftershave; John says it is a cross between English Leather and Old Spice,” she says.
The best selling lotion is Lavender Fields, with Yuzu (a Japanese citrus) a close second. Fragrance preference depends on the individual.
“A smell can bring back a flood of memories from past experiences,” Janet says. “The smell of Plumeria might take someone back to a vacation in Hawaii. Honeysuckle reminds me of times I spent with my grandmother in her yard.”
The Loceys’ property is one of the more picturesque places in San Benito County. Surrounded by rolling hills of oak woodlands, the property also houses ducks, chickens and lambs. The Loceys butcher some of the chickens and lambs—“We try to be sustainable as we can as far as raising our own food,” John says—and they also have a vegetable garden containing just about all of the green super foods.
All of the milking goats wear Swiss bells—hence the name Bell Hill Farm. The Loceys also use their knowledge and unique talent to give back to others. As a host for the World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program—an organization dedicated to linking visitors with organic farmers promoting a cultural and educational exchange to build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices—the Loceys host individuals who are exploring a career in organic farming.
The Loceys, who also make their own bread, kefir and kombucha, hold a couple of workshops, one for cheese making and the other for rag rug making, the latter a workshop where individuals work on a loom to master a weaving process called twining. One of Janet’s quilts, a reproduction of an early 1800s piece entitled New England Village, was featured as a special display in museums and other venues across the country while also appearing in magazines.
“A part of our goal is to pass our knowledge to the next generation,” Janet says. The Loceys are also affiliated with HelpX and Workaway, a pair of work-exchange programs. “We enjoy working with young people who have a similar passion as us. The first person that came to us stayed for a year. Some of them become a part of the family.”