A Visit to Merryl Winstein’s Goat Farm

For EarthDance staff and apprentices, Monday nights are devoted to enrichment sessions, which may consist of a field walk on the farm, or a class on topics such as soil fertility or organic pest management.  Other Monday evenings are spent visiting neighboring farms.  On Monday, May 9th, apprentices and staff bid the farm a (temporary) farewell, and took their first field trip of the season. Merryl Winstein, a local dairy farmer, welcomed EarthDancers to her homestead in Webster Groves.

Ms.Winstein has raised chickens and goats for nearly twenty years, in keeping with Webster’s municipal ordinances regarding backyard livestock.  She sells eggs and milk to customers who pick up their orders weekly.  Seven years ago, she branched out to a new home-based business: cheese-making classes.

Merryl says she was raised on Kraft singles, but she came to love strong and unusual cheeses on a trip to Denmark at age fourteen.  Once she started raising goats in her backyard, experiments with homemade cheese were a logical next step. However, she claims that it took years to perfect the process.

The classes grew out of her notoriety as a local purveyor of raw milk (the best kind for home cheese making, says Winstein). People occasionally approached her, requesting to learn the traditional methods for preserving milk. After Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle popularized the notion of DIY cheese, her classes took off.

Winstein taught the EarthDance crew “goat care 101” as she milked six of her goats at stations set up in her garage.

Winstein explained that she started keeping a few chickens and a goat, as a hobby in 1993. The hobby is now a passion and a livelihood.  Ten goats currently reside in Winstein’s small barn.  She favors the Saanen and La Mancha breeds; she finds them well suited to neighborhood living (quiet and not-too-stinky) and their milk only mildly “goaty.”  As the group observed Winstein’s expert milking, she shared highlights of her experience as a suburban dairy farmer, and informed them on the finer points of raw milk safety. Afterwards, petting the six-week-old goat triplets was a hit among the apprentices.

In appreciation to Merryl for hosting the field trip, EarthDance pitched in to help her build a woodpile and muck out the goat barn.  After an hour of strong-smelling work and then very thorough handwashing, Merryl and the EarthDance crew shared a potluck dinner, complete with a hunk of Merryl’s own goat chedder.  The evening ended with fond farewells and an invitation for Winstein to visit EarthDance farm soon.

To find out more about Merryl Winstein’s farm products and cheese classes, visit her website, http://www.cheesemakingclass.com/