Marcia Bothman met her first goat when her kids joined 4-H nearly three decades ago. Now she’s turning their milk into a family business.
Inside Marcia’s Garden Soap Shop on Safford’s Main Street, homemade brown goat milk bars of soap line the shelves. Salves, balms, and lotions are also available for sale in the shop. The smell of essential oils, flowers and goat soap fills the air as classical music plays in the back room. The shop is divided into the front store and the rear soap production area.
This is where Bothman, who moved to Graham County from Pearce last year, teaches her family the tricks and skills of the soap-making process.
Her daughter, Sarah Rasmussen, feeds and milks their three papered Nubian goats, operates the cash register, and mails the website orders. Her grandchildren also work in the shop. Emmett Lambson, 9, said he loves pouring soap into molds. Rasmussen’s teens help cut the soap, imprint the logo and set it up to dry.
Rasmussen also brings her daughter, Naomi “Junie” Rasmussen, 2, to the shop. Junie has Down syndrome and her future is directly tied to the shop’s, Rasmussen said.
“Our goal is to ultimately have a place for Junie to work and create,” Rasmussen said.
For now, Junie stands in her playpen at the back of the store, where her mother fills Internet orders and prints labels.
Although the lye in soap production will always be too dangerous for Junie to work with, Bothman said the little girl could make lip balms, lotion, and salves when she is older.
Bothman said it’s getting closer to the time when she hands the business over to her children.
“They have plans for this business, to make it larger. What I’m trying to do is teach them what I do and let them take it,” she said. “The people love the product and the business grows and grows.”
On Thursday morning, Bothman, Rasmussen, Junie and Emmett were all at the shop.
Emmett happily poured the melted soap into cacti molds, mixing in mica colors. Mica are colors found in the environment, Bothman said.
When he grows up, Emmett said he wants to work in the soap shop. One by one, he poured soap into the molds, cooled them in the refrigerator, and then popped them out of the mold.
“This is all stuff I would have to do normally, and he is helping me with,” Bothman said. “He is my little helper.”
Bothman began her goat soap journey in 1993 when her kids got into 4-H, and she suddenly had goats, milk and a curiosity.
While at a convention in Portland, Oregon a woman was giving away small pieces of soap made with goat’s milk and she remembers holding it, smelling it and admiring it.
After returning home, she began to research goat soap and she was hooked. For some time she worked with her sister, Deborah Collins, and she credits her sister’s input and creativity to a large portion of the shop’s success.
“I kept making soap and people would buy it from me,” she said. “They kept buying soaps and petting goats, and I wanted to make a good product for people’s skins. It was also very profitable, even though it was very hard work. All of the soaps are hand-made.”
When she was living in Pearce, she would wake up at daybreak to make her soaps each day for the shop. Now that she is living in the Graham County area she can sleep in a bit.
Each day around 10 a.m., said she comes to the store on Main Street and begins working on her soap products.
Once the milk Rasmussen has collected has been strained, she adds olive oil, palm oil, or coconut oil to the mix.
After mixing her key ingredients, Bothman uses a soap-making process called cold-processing. This process allows the nutrients to stay within the soap and not be boiled out, she said.
“You combine it, mix it, let it set for 24 hours, and then remove it from the mold like butter,” she said. “After this, it has to be on the shelf for 30 days. The longer the soap sits, the harder and the longer lasting it becomes.”
Not wanting to give away all her secrets, Bothman said her soaps have different purposes. However, it isn’t necessarily what is in the soap, but what isn’t in it.
“There are no irritants in our soap. We do infuse herbs to our soaps and green tea,” she said.
Charcoal soap helps people with acne, she said. Neem oil from India is an anti-fungal and will fight off any skin infections. She also adds lavender oils, California poppy petals and dandelions.
“We use a lot of herbs instead of chemicals and additives,” she said.
“Goats milk also has lactic acid,” said Rasmussen. “It’s a more natural way to clean the skin. It doesn’t strip away all of the oils, it just clenses your skin without stripping it of all its oils.”
Her inspiration comes to her when she is hard at work in her shop and she simply wants to try something new.
“It’s been 30 years, believe it or not. I still love to make soap. I love the thought process and that someone is going to buy it. I also still love lotions and creams, but my greatest love is the soap making,” she said.