Goats are part of the dream at Mercer County farm

Dream Thyme Farm is a working family farm on 85 acres in Mercer County, just past the Grove City Outlets. As I pull into the driveway, the crunch of my tires on gravel alerts several hundred animals within earshot, who gobble, bark, bray, baa and crow in a welcoming chorus, while frogs from a nearby pond add bass notes.

Stepping from the car, I am greeted by six bounding collies, all muddy paws and wet kisses.

Soon, Lynne Gelston bounds from the barn, reaches out a hand in welcome and says she'll give me a tour of the farm as soon as she finishes milking Clarabelle the cow. Ms. Gelston's son, Aidan, 12, a seventh-grader, starts the dialogue.

Pointing in all directions, he counts off, "We have four horses, five llamas, a small herd of sheep, three peacocks, 13 dogs, nine cats, Clarabelle and her calf, guinea hens, geese, chickens and turkeys ... a pen of rabbits and about 150 goats. Maybe more. I've lived here since I was a baby."

His sister, Danielle, 14, listens as she bottle-feeds a tail-wagging white baby goat with milk dribbling down his chinny-chin-chin. "This guy is the runt of a set of triplets," she says.

"I am the farmer here," says Ms. Gelston, patting Clarabelle's backside. "This is my career, not my husband's, although he helps me with big projects such as fencing and big tractor work when he's in town." Husband Rudy Nedved is in the computer industry.

She continues, "Our dream was to have a place where our children could have animals and enjoy the wildlife. As we have added gardens, pastures, paddocks and pens, the animals came. At first we took baby animals into school, then we started selling our products at farmers markets. We found a real need for people to buy more of their food from local farmers."

As we walk the farm, Ms. Gelston shows herself to be a one-woman band. All the animals are raised on pasture, and they all have jobs. "Chickens are raised for meat or eggs (we get eight to ten dozen a day, usually), lamb for meat, and sheep for wool," she says as we dodge a pile of recently shorn wool in the barn.

As we near a penned area near the farmhouse (reserved for maternity and special-needs animals), goats, large and small, all mommas with their kids, amble over to the fence to be petted, have their ears scratched and noses stroked.

"The goats have turned out to be my passion. Our blood lines for them are the best we can produce," she says. "We cross-breed using artificial insemination with the best semen we can buy. These Boers are our meat goats. The Saanens are Swiss dairy goats. The Nigerian dwarf goats are dairy goats too, and their milk has a very high butterfat. We raise the Angoras for their fiber."

Most of the goat milk goes from mothers to babies. Surplus milk is made into cheeses -- feta, ricotta, chevre and mozzarella. Any leftover goat milk, frozen in gallon jugs, goes into the 45 to 60 fragrances of soaps she makes. "We sell our soap as a fundraiser so we can put up a creamery where we can make aged raw milk goat cheese."

She explains, "Some people refer to goats as Nanny and Billy. I think that's insulting. These animals are ewes and bucks and kids. Goats are smart. Ours all have names and will come when you call them." She calls out to Rosie, Valentine, Irish and Pearl, and they respond, I swear, smiling their silly goat grins.

More goats are grazing in the high meadow. To get there we follow a path under an arch of trees, where about 30 yard-long logs lean against tree trunks, each log polka-dotted with bored holes inoculated with shiitake mushroom spores.

Finally, up in the high meadow, we meet her prides and joys, 25 to 30 beautiful, silky goats, all raised for their meat, each of their ears tattooed with their date of birth.

In the kitchen

Back in the farm kitchen, Ms. Gelston sets out a lunch of homemade rye bread with wildflower honey, her jams, fresh peaches and cucumber slices. She offers a glass of Clarabelle's still-warm milk.

"Funny thing," she says. "Last summer a customer stopped by the farmers market and bought goat meat for the first time. The next week, they returned and complained. 'We thought it would be gamey,' they said. 'It was much too tender. And it tasted like veal.'

"Goats are browsers," she continues. "They live on organic pasture, and they want it to be waist-high, too. They eat clover, blackberry leaves, alfalfa, sunflowers. Why wouldn't their meat be good and flavorful?

"We harvest goats from four months and up. Different people want them at different ages. Some want them young and still on mothers' milk, some want an older male." As for pricing, all meat is $5 per pound and up, but it depends on the cut.

"We use all parts of the animal," says Ms. Gelston. "After meat animals are slaughtered, butchered and packaged, the hides are tanned and returned to the farm."

Soft chamois could be fashioned into a vest or shirt. Several cello-brown goat skins could make a knock-out jacket. Rawhide eventually ends up on drum heads.

As many seasoned travelers will tell you, some of the best dishes in Spain, Italy and many other countries are made with kid -- baby goat. Because kid is not to be found in American supermarkets, the meat is unfamiliar and often met with suspicion. But, as we travel more, that seems to be changing.

"I have a big ethnic customer base for goat," says Ms. Gelston. "But my strongest market, and most of my sales, are to fairly well-to-do suburban WASPS in their 40s and 50s.


Marlene Parrish can be reached at mparrish@post-gazette.com or 412-481-1620.


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