It was a late winter afternoon as I drove through the hills along Cienega Road in Hollister, CA. Blossoms are falling from trees and tiny green leaves are budding, letting us know spring is on the horizon. Also known as the “Wine Trail”, Cienega road is home to gorgeous views and a handful of the town’s best wineries that are scattered along the hillside. DeRose Winery, a “green winery”, is one of the wineries along Cienega. Just a short distance from DeRose rests the gravel road that leads the way to Bell Hill Farm. The steep road is lined with oak trees and the chiming sounds of bells are heard from a distance above. I’m on my way to spend a couple of hours with John and Janet Locey and their brood of animals of Bell Hill Farms and Hen Scratch Quilting.
The hillsides along the road to their home are lined with mossy oak trees, picturesque out of a woodland fairytale. The road, although gravel lined, is still rough and you must take care when climbing the hill. I carefully navigated my way around the backside of the house, found a parking spot and setoff to find Janet. I was greeted by a couple of four-legged furry family members, wagging tails, wet noses and all. I located Janet sitting in front of the house workshop. In her arms was a tiny 1/2 French Alpine 1/2 American Alpine goat, Chico, only 2 days old. The goat is one of three babies and was not faring along as well as the others despite being bigger than her siblings. Janet was feeding the baby goat because she had not gotten up to feed off her mother. I was fortunate enough to hold the goat for a moment after Janet fed her. Soon after we placed the goat back with her mother, she was up and moving around. What a special moment it was for me to experience, witnessing the little goat fight to stand on its own. For Janet, this is nothing new; these are experiences she meets daily.
Chico exploring the daffodils after braving her first few steps…
After tending to the baby goat, we jumped right into our chat taking stock of every animal, every project, and every task in process at the Locey homestead. While Janet escorted me through her life I couldn’t help but notice how many projects she was immersed in and how she was keeping up with them all. I could barely keep up pace with her as she climbed the hills checking on her animals.
Janet and her husband John manage a family of goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks for their personal homestead, as well as operating Bell Hill Farm (Goat Milk Soaps & Lotions) and Hen Scratch Quilting (sewing machine repair, quilting retreats, patterns, quilts, supplies and more!). The ducks and chickens provide eggs & meat, the goats provide milk, the sheep provide meat, and Janet & John harvest it all for their family. Their home rests on the middle of the property. The surrounding hills are covered with wild flowers and moss-covered oaks. The goats live on the bottom half of the hill and the sheep on the upper half, all grazing on beautiful wild forage. The chickens and ducks keep watch near the goats and the dogs & cats follow John or Janet around the homestead keeping watch of them all.
Janet was born and raised in Northern California on her family’s pre-gold rush era ranch where they farmed row crops. Her mother and grandparents kept chickens, which is how she developed a great love for the bird. Despite her deep roots of country living Janet had no prior experience raising small livestock such as sheep and goats. She and John raised their family on what you would call an urban homestead in the South Bay of California, almost 40 years ago. This urban homestead consisted only of chickens but her deep country roots were calling. Janet needed to move her family and her chickens elsewhere. It was then decided Janet and John would move their family to the Central Coast and the hills of Hollister California, over 25 years ago. Janet’s love for chickens helped them settle in the place they call home today. Janet informed me that it wasn’t the beautiful house or the picturesque landscape that sold her … it was the existing chicken coop on the property. An instant home for her chickens…she was sold and they moved in! When Janet and her husband John purchased the property it was heavily covered in thick brush. To manage the terrain, they bought a couple of Alpine goats. Janet explained, “For a family on a shoe string budget you learn to be creative in how you tackle the challenges ahead.” While the goats were managing the brush they also managed to have…babies!
“A couple of goats, led to babies that led to milk, which lead to soaps & lotions” Janet explained as we walked along the fence line to the goat’s home. “It was a natural progression to go from having too much goat’s milk, not knowing what to do with it, to making soaps and lotions” Janet explained. “There is always enough milk for our soaps, lotions, for our family to drink, and even enough at times to make cheese for our family.” She took me along the goat’s path and I got to see spring in action, each area holding several babies and their mothers. All of Janet’s goats are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. This allows Janet to track each goat’s heritage and milk line.
Through a course taken at UC Davis sponsored by the DHIA (Dairy Goat Improvement Association) Janet is a certified Goat milk tester. One day a month the amount of milk from each goat is weighed and recorded and a sample is taken and sent into a lab for testing. Reports are generated for milk production, per cent protein, percent fat and somatic cell count (health of udder) along with various other information. Decisions on breeding and culling are based on these production records. The information gathered through this program goes into a data bank providing valuable information to the individual dairy goat owner and gathers statistics for the entire goat industry to use in research and educational programs.
The production data gathered though the milk test program may be submitted to the American Dairy Goat Association and the individual goat may earn a star if she meets the production requirement for her particular breed. The star may be passed down to her daughter if she meets the requirements then her registration papers carry the designation of a two star milker. That daughter may have a daughter that meets the requirement and then she would be a 3 star milker and so on. The goats must be on official test to earn the star and you can’t skip any generations. This information gives Janet direct insight into how she can better care for her animals.
I was already dizzy from all the information and how Janet kept up with everything around us; we had only just begun the tour. Between the goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats… who would have time to make goat’s milk body soap, lotion, and recently added to the lineup of products, laundry soap? I had to know how she was motivated to do this. What led Janet Locey and her family down the path of self-sufficiency, handcraftsmanship, and livestock?
For over 30 years Janet worked as an accountant for local city governments and school districts; John was a maintenance manager for a local food processing plant. Although their careers provided a stable living for their family, they were frustrated with the outcome of industrial systems and their dependency on so many unnatural things. Janet and John believed there had to be more; more to offer their family and their community. Soon after moving into their country home, they began to experience the satisfaction of getting back to the basics.
Janet finished up outside and we made our way into the house. I was greeted by the sweet aroma of soap & lotion scents mixed with the savory aroma of a roasted chicken that she was cooking for dinner. We worked our way down the hall and stopped at the first room; Janet’s office and soap room. The walls were lined with scents, packaging, bottles of lotion, and trays of curing soaps. Her desk was covered with soap wrappers and hemp ties, getting ready to package the next order for Sunday’s farmers market. I was in heaven. Something about the smell of plumeria and ginger (two yummy scents Janet provides through her soaps and lotions) that settles me. I took a moment before having to leave the room. I held each bar of soap to my nose inhaling deeper and deeper, trying to keep the scent with me. Before we left the soap room I noticed a stack of framed pictures. Janet pulled a handful of the frames out from behind some boxes. These pictures were much too beautiful to be hiding away. Looking closer I saw Janet’s signature donned the bottom corners of each piece. This was nothing more than a labor of love for Janet. A mixture of water colors and detailed lines – I got lost in her pictures, wanting to visit the places she was able to create on paper. Her prints are recreated on thick card stock note cards that follow her to farmers markets. Her art also hangs in a local bakery downtown.
We finished up in the soap room and moved on to the next room…the quilt room. You are greeted by a 3 foot pile of completed quilts and the walls are covered in quilts – all made by Janet. These quilts have intricate details and creative patterns. Janet’s quilts are truly a work of art. This beautiful quilt was published in two magazines “American Patchwork and Quilting” and “Quilter’s Newsletter.” Turns out the original quilt was a historic item and had been burned in a museum fire. Janet’s recreation was inspired by an AQSG (American Quilt Study Group) project and the quilt traveled for two years, displayed in museum exhibits and quilt shows across the nation.
Its mind-boggling when you focus on the detail of her work – it slowly starts to sink in and you begin to understand the tedious detail and patience it takes to put something like this together. I asked how long it took to sew one of the detailed quilts and without missing a beat, Janet quickly replied, “a year”. There in this room was a stack; a thick, time-consuming stack of quilts that were all carefully handcrafted and designed by Janet. She designs quilts and creates patterns for Maywood Studios Fabric for both Fall and Spring Quilt Markets each year. Three times a year Janet hosts a quilting retreat at the Saint Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista. Her first session is SOLD OUT but there are still spaces available for the remaining two sessions. We left the quilting room, with my hands still in the pile of quilts… I had my eye on one. It was a turtle theme with varying shades of green and paisley patterns. I really want that quilt.
We briefly stopped in John’s workshop before heading off to Janet’s sewing room. A workshop filled with sewing machines and all of their little bits and pieces. John cleans and repairs old Featherweight sewing machines…in his spare time. He helps keep Janet up and running so her quilting deadlines can always be met. He also helps maintain many of the machines from the people who come to Janet’s “sewing sessions”. Each week Janet hosts a handful of women at her home in her sewing room. They work on quilts, learn new techniques, and share information. The room is long and the walls are covered with books and quilts. There are tables in the center of the room covered with sewing machines and pieces of brightly covered fabric and patterns. Janet thumbs through the shelves and quickly finds a stack of patterns. She spread the colorful fabric out in front of me and with a pre-made square she briefly showed me how she gets beginning quilters started.
I could see how passionate Janet was about teaching. Janet noted that through teaching others she gains so much more knowledge. “If you don’t learn something from those you are teaching, you’ve not done your job correctly”, Janet explained. We left the sewing room and worked our way through the house to the kitchen, our final destination and of course one of my favorite places to be! I was in heaven as Janet showed me all of her homesteading gadgets. From ice cream makers, to grain grinders, milking buckets, cheese presses, and even a fizzy water maker… Janet had everything a homesteader would need to make life easier and enable one to be more self-sufficient. One of the best parts of my visit was the taste of fresh goats milk cheese. Janet utilizes the extra milk from her goats to make several different types of cheese for her family’s consumption. There is a tiny “college” refrigerator sitting in the corner of her kitchen. This is the cheese fridge housing months of delicious aged goodness. Janet explained that it doesn’t make sense for her to take Bell Hill Farm’s goat milk tasks beyond soaps and lotions. Janet and her goats may make fantastic cheese but a certified dairy is a costly venture that she & John are not able to take on at this point in their lives.
Our visit was coming to an end. Janet shared with me a taste of their dinner; one of their own chickens, roasted, along with steamed rice made with homemade broth and local wheat berries. She had just finished washing the fresh collected chicken and duck eggs from her flock. She had several buckets lined up on the sink ready to go for the next milking of the goats. There was a giant container of soap shavings that she was getting ready to process for laundry soap. Across the kitchen sat a loom with a half transformed “rag rug”. It was clear that no matter the time of day, or day of week…Janet had something going, something in process. She was busy and she was happy. Janet explained that she’s coming to a point in life where most people would find themselves retiring and settling down – but she is not. She’s finally found her calling…she knows now what she wants to be when she grows up. “If only I started sooner; if only I was doing the things I am now with the energy I had in my 30s and 40s”, Janet explained with sincerity. With the very best advice she could provide, Janet expressed to me, “don’t stop what you’re doing. This is the best thing for your son, for your family, and for your health. You are making a difference and can make a difference in educating and motivating others”… on getting back to the basics of life.
It gives me great pride to share with people a story of a loving married couple of 40 years who do more in their 60+ young years of age than most 20 something’s’ I know. Thank you Janet and John for allowing me in your home and sharing with me your lives… Welcome to Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting!
Bell Hill Farm Products are:
– Goats Milk Body Soap
– Goats Milk Body Lotion
– Goats Milk Laundry Soap
All products are available in unscented. Other scents available are Almond, Lavender, Lilac, Plumeria, Sandalwood, Spice Mahogany, Vanilla, Yuzu, and Wild Oats & Honey. Janet can also put together special requests.
Benefits of Goats Milk Soap & Lotion:
- Does not contain harsh detergents or additives
- High levels of cream in goat’s milk provide moisturizing qualities
- Goats milk is high in protein, fat, iron, vitamins B, C, D, E providing bacteria killing properties (acne) and helps retain skins moisture
- Goats milk naturally contains glycerin for high moisturizing properties
- Low pH to that of human skin allowing for better absorption
- Goats milk naturally contains lactic acid which is an alpha hydroxy acid found in skin rejuvenation products
Bell Hill’s Products can be purchased at:
- Directly from their website
- Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)
- A monthly, 6 week, or bi-monthly CSA program with auto ship, details at the website
- At San Benito Bene in historic downtown Hollister, CA
Hen Scratch Quilting Patterns, Retreats, and more…
- Visit Hen Scratch Quilting for patterns that you can order directly from the website
- Janet also makes and provides supplies for Rag Rugs, perfect throws for every area of the house
- Contact John Locey via email for more information on Featherweight sewing machine cleaning, repair, and supplies
Janet Locey Art Work
Janet’s prints can be purchased at:
- Heavenly Bakery in historic downtown Hollister, CA
- Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)