Go At Milk

Vincent and Christine Maefsky grew up in the
Brooklyn, New York of the 1940s; amid a jungle of
fire escapes and corner delis, department stores and
high-rise housing projects, Prospect Park, Grand Army
Plaza, and the U.S. Navy Yard. It was a world away from
the green rolling hills where they would eventually settle,
45 minutes east of the Twin Cities. When the couple first
moved to Scandia, they named their new farm after a
ridge on the property lined with trembling, silver-leafed
poplar trees. More than 40 years later, the Maefskys are
still there, now the proud owners of one of the largest
goat dairies in Minnesota, even though the trees that once
guarded their namesake hillside are long gone.

The Maefskys met at the University of Oklahoma, and
after graduating, they married and became homesteaders,
following the “back to the land” movement popular
with their peers at the end of the 1960s. They wanted to
garden, raise chickens and ducks, and produce their own
milk. Vince started to look around for a cow, but the ad he
placed in a local circulatory returned only a letter from a
neighboring farmer. “He said I should forget about cows
and buy goats,” recalled Vince. “He told me that they
were much smarter, more gregarious creatures, that they
make wonderful milk. And he was right.”

So they bought a few goats, and shortly after moved their
farm up to Minnesota, where Christine took a job as a teacher and Vince as a real estate agent. In those days, they would wake up at 2:00 a.m. to do the morning milking and other farm chores, then go to
their nine-to-fives before coming home to milk in the evening and finish
the remaining barn work. Vince started breeding the goats
and showing the kids at the State Fair. They sold some raw milk to
the neighbors. They sold off some of the kids each
spring, but by 1975, things got to a point where they could expand and
do it full-time or cut back the size of the operations; feed was
too expensive for the 20 goats they had back then. So Vince went to the North Branch Creamery and asked if they would pasteurize their
goat milk. Then he went door to door at the various Twin Cities co-ops and health food stores trying to sell his goat milk-a rarity then and still a rarity now. Poplar Hill is the only Grade-A dairy
in the state that sells it. The Wedge was one of their very first contracts.

Since those early days, the farm has expanded to a herd of 700
goats, 10 employees and additional products; plain and herbed chevres
are delivered weekly to the Wedge by Vince and Christine’s daughter,
Sarah Johnson, and can be found in the artisanal cheese case. It’s
still very much a family affair. Sarah helps out with merchandise
and marketing. Her brothers do the barn and field work, like
cutting pasture and feeding the herd. Her parents, now in
their early 70s, still work fulltime, mostly keeping track of the
books and supervising the morning milking. But in the spring, everyone
drops everything for kidding season.

“Your life completely changes during kidding season,” said
Sarah. “It becomes six hours of feeding baby goats each day in
addition to the other daily chores. We have over 100 does due to kid
in the month of March.” Most of those goats will get sold off the
farm. The Maefskys are leaders in goat herding and breeding-their
Alpines, Nubians, Saanens, and Toggenburgs are highly desirable
for the protein and butterfat content in their milk. In March,
Vincent and Christine Maefsky, will be inducted into the Minnesota
Livestock Breeders’ Association Hall of Fame, in recognition of their
achievements and commitment to the community.

Sarah is proud of her parents, and of the unique niche
that their farm fills in the local food system. It’s what
has drawn her back to the land she was raised on, to the
fields filled with young grass and baby goats each
spring. “It’s so much work to be a farmer,” she said.
“It never stops. You never get a day off. Either you love it
or you run from it. I left and went to work off the farm for several years after college. But somehow I
found my way back. It’s hard to explain. It’s your heart, you know. Everything I am is because of those goats.”

You can find Poplar Hill milk and chevres every day at the Wedge,
in our dairy and artisanal cheese cases.