Chivas Skin Care – Artisanal Goat Milk Products From a Sustainable Family Farm

Goodlifer: Chivas Skin Care

On their farm in Fillmore, about an hour north of Los Angeles, mother-and-daughter team Donna and Lauren Johanson use fresh goat milk to craft artisan soaps that have garnered near cult-status. Chivas Skin Care soaps, which, besides the goat milk, contain all-natural essential oils, fairtrade shea butter and other organic, natural ingredients (all of which are listed on their website), can be found in stores like Fred Segal and select Whole Foods Markets. But, the most fun thing to do is to pay a visit to the farm and buy them — or products like rich goat milk facial cremes, nourishing goat milk bath salts, moisturizing lip balms, and laundry soap flakes — and meet the goats too. I visited on a sunny day a few weeks ago and got a good glimpse into daily life on a sustainable goat farm.

Made with fresh goat milk and all-natural ingredients, the soaps are also packaged and labeled by hand, right on the farm.

Made with fresh goat milk and all-natural ingredients, the soaps are also packaged and labeled by hand, right on the farm.

Donna, Lauren and their team currently raise 19 French Alpine Goats on Chivas farm. They need to be milked twice a day, something Donna still does, by hand, each day. Depending on the season, each goat produces between one and two gallons of milk every day. During the last few months of their pregnancies and until after about three months after they give birth, the goats are not milked, because it’s important for the kids to have this nourishment from their mothers. This practice goes against industrial farming practices, where kids are taken off their mother immediately and fed a powdered milk replacer, but is an important part of keeping a happy goat herd, which is something that the people at Chivas strive for.

The goats need to be milked twice daily and each one produces 1-2 gallons of milk per day.

The goats need to be milked twice daily and each one produces 1-2 gallons of milk per day.

Donna Johanson in her soap workshop.

Donna Johanson in her soap workshop.

Donna, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, first started keeping goats when she moved to California with her husband and four children 20 years ago, mainly because she wanted her and her family to be able to enjoy the incredible health benefits of raw, unprocessed goat milk (which include high vitamin and mineral content as well as alkaline pH). It was when she was trying to figure out what to do with all the excess milk that she started experimenting with making goat milk cheeses, yogurts, ice creams and, eventually, soaps. The Chivas Skin Care product line is deliberately kept simple, because she believes that taking care of your skin should be easy and that buying too many products can be wasteful.

Fair Trade Shea Butter – which supports a woman’s cooperative in Togo, Africa.

Fair Trade Shea Butter – which supports a woman’s cooperative in Togo, Africa.

Essential oils are blended on-site, and natural oils like coconut, palm and olive oil are used.

Essential oils are blended on-site, and natural oils like coconut, palm and olive oil are used.

The soap mixture is left to harden for a few days in molds, before it is trimmed into final soap-size.

The soap mixture is left to harden for a few days in molds, before it is trimmed into final soap-size.

“My friends and family particularly loved the soaps and kept asking me for more and more until they eventually convinced me to establish my own business selling them,” she says. “As the business has grown, I am proud that I continue to hand-milk my goats and hand-make each small batch of soap. And I have to add that caring for the goats is a real pleasure.”

Goodlifer: Chivas Skin Care

Seasonal shapes are created using molds, like these created from actual pumpkins.

Seasonal shapes are created using molds, like these created from actual pumpkins.

Nothing goes to waste at Chivas, the excess shaved off when the soaps are formed is shaped into balls and sold as "soap on a rope."

Nothing goes to waste at Chivas, the excess shaved off when the soaps are formed is shaped into balls and sold as “soap on a rope.”

Lauren, one of these four children, remembers receiving her mom’s first batch of soap in care package sent to her while at college. “My roommates and I loved it,” she says.  After graduation, she traveled the world, worked on an organic lavender farm in New Zealand, studied Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine in India, and became interested in cultural traditions of health and beauty. “These experiences abroad strengthened my passion for environmental and social justice. So, when I returned to California, I started working part-time with Ten Thousand Villages (a non-profit Fair Trade organization) and part-time helping my Mom making soap.”  Slowly, what she thought was just a hobby turned into a passion for designing new products, developing new essential oil blends, learning more about natural health, and spending time on the farm.

Currently, there are 19 French Alpine Goats living on Chivas farm.

Currently, there are 19 French Alpine Goats living on Chivas farm.

“I was originally living by the beach in Santa Monica and driving up to the farm a day or two a week. But as the business continued to grow, I found I just wanted to be up here more, and the commute became exhausting. Living up here now is amazing because I can really dive into the work full-time,” Lauren says.

Lauren Johanson and I, in the warm afternoon light at Chivas family farm.

Lauren Johanson and I, in the warm afternoon light at Chivas family farm.

Chivas Skin Care is a true family business, and even the workers who are not actually part of the family seemed to be treated as such. Although one can imagine working alongside family members is not always easy, it adds to the integrity of the business. “I didn’t imagine I’d be working with my mother, but it’s also not a surprise,” Lauren says. “My grandfather started an electronics company that my father and brother still manage, so a family business feels very natural to me. Plus, I’m the only girl with three (amazing) brothers, so my Mom and I have always had a special mother-daughter bond.”

Two miniature pigs (who are not so minature anymore) also live on the farm.

Two miniature pigs (who are not so minature anymore) also live on the farm.

I asked Lauren about the most rewarding part about what she and her mother does: “I really enjoy interacting with customers at the farm because I get to share all the things I’m learning about sustainable living on our one-acre property. While people initially come to us wanting to learn more about natural skin care, we’ve found that it’s often the first step of many towards a more natural lifestyle. Music to my ears? Someone saying: ‘I love your rosemary soap and now I want to build a balcony garden to grow rosemary at my apartment’. And the sharing certainly goes both ways. I’m relatively new to all of this, so I have so much to learn from the wonderful and knowledgeable people I get to meet through what I do.”

A few horses (and foals) also share the one-acre property.

A few horses (and foals) also share the one-acre property.

This coming Saturday, December 1st, you’ll have a chance to come to Chivas and tour the farm as part of their 7th Annual Open Farm event. Besides touring the farm, guests can look forward to getting to meet all the animals (which include miniature pigs, desert tortoises, horses, chickens and of course the goats), learning how to make goat milk soap in our workshop, actually trying your hand at milking a goat (I did, it’s not as easy as it looks), and tasting Donna’s homemade goat cheeses and goat cheese desserts. You can also do some holiday shopping in the soap cottage, as well as with 10 other local vendors, ranging from pottery to jewelry to even compost. There will also be photo booths set-up, as well as a bunch of fun games on the front lawn, so bring the kids, your camera and comfy shoes (that can withstand some farm dust).

Visit Chivas farm on December 1st and try your hand at milking a goat. It's harder than it looks, trust me.

Visit Chivas farm on December 1st and try your hand at milking a goat. It’s harder than it looks, trust me.

It’s amazing that all these animals, the soap factory and the family themselves can fit on a one-acre farm.

Find out more and connect with Chivas Skin Care:
Online Shop / Facebook / Twitter / Flickr

All photos by Marc Alt

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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