Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm in Scandia, MN
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 full-time, 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.
View the Spring Share 2016 PDF
Back to Spring 2016 Share articles