By Brett Milam
When you walk into the home of Patricia Fix, who will be 84 in May, it smells like soap.
That’s because she’s the matriarch of the 84-acre Pine Lane Soap Farms, located in Batavia , where she’s at the helm of four generations of women running the goat milk soap farm.
“This is a female-operated farm,” Martha Enriquez, Fix’s daughter said.
In the room – adjacent to the living room – is where hundreds of soaps are either waiting to be cut or are already packaged in their compostable packing. They’ll be sold at the Montgomery Farmers’ Market, located in Montgomery, or one of the 35 stores their soaps are featured in, like Jungle Jim’s in Eastgate.
It’s from that room where 12,000 soaps are produced every year.
In 2015, Pine Lane Soap Farms was featured as part of the Ohio Women in Agriculture Leadership Network Farm Tours, part of the Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series. That meant visitors could come to the house and learn about the soap-making process and sample foods made with goat milk.
Fix’s father took over the farm, which has a history dating to the soldiers of the Revolutionary War, in 1960. When he died, the family moved back to Batavia in 1974 and that’s when Fix began running the farm.
“I guess it’s unusual around this area,” Fix said, about being a female-operated farm. “I don’t know of any other farm that runs exclusively by women.”
But Fix said – and was echoed by Enriquez – that she doesn’t find any difficulties with being a woman-run operation
“I am very proud to continue what my father began with this agricultural life,” she said. “It seems there’s interest in this next generation to a certain extent, too.”
She added, “In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small farm. More than anything, I’d say it represents a farm of the past.”
Fix, Enriquez and her sister, Becky Jones, who is head adviser for the Country Kids 4-H Club and is also a dairy goat adviser for Clermont County, help to keep the farm and soap business going. Fixstill gets involved, riding the tractor or getting out to the 150-year-old barn where 30-some goats meander around.
Fix discussed some of the issues that may threaten the farm. For instance, while climate change hasn’t really affected the farm “yet,” she said it will happen.
The biggest issue they deal with at the farm today is the drainage, Enriquez added. She said their property is located in a part of the county that has been rated as a swamp.
“This part of Clermont County is so flat and drains so poorly,” Enriquez said. “It’s often June by the time it’s nice and dry.”
Despite the swampy terrain, one of the benefits of the farm’s location – so far east – is that suburban sprawl hasn’t caused any issues.
“We’re far enough east of the county that we haven’t really felt squeezed,” Enriquez said.
She added that they have been able to trace the deed of the farm back to Revolutionary War soldiers, who were given much of the land in Southwest Ohio as payment.
A colonel in the Revolutionary War owned about 2,000 acres in the area, Enriquez said, but she’s not sure which chunk of it was their farm. It originally sold for $300.
In contrast to the property’s rich history, the the soap business aspect of the farm is relatively new.
“We’ve been in the soap business for 10 years,” Fix said. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
She added, “I think our product speaks for itself and I think people are happy with that.”
The soap is lye soap made with goat milk instead of water, derived from the milk of either Saanen and Toggenburg goats. No detergents or other chemicals are present in the soap.
“We love being a small local business and appreciate our customers and friends,” Enriquez said. “It’s not much, but we feel very blessed to be able to continue all of this.”
Fix said the business is important, but education is also something she feels very strongly about – all three of the women have backgrounds in education – and that’s why they’re heavily involved in 4-H, something that’s continued with their own children and grandchildren.
“It started out as a way to educate farm children, as a way to better education them on farm practices,” Enriquez said, who has her master’s in agricultural education.
An aspect of that is literally getting people to the farm and seeing what it’s like through open houses a few times a year, so that people can find out what a farm and the country life is like, Enriquez said.
One of the family’s last grandchildren within the 4-H club is Teddy, 19, who teaches a class to other people within 4-H about animal safety.
“All of my siblings – cousins – we’ve been doing it as we’ve been growing up,” he said.
Katie, 28, a respiratory therapist at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, also lives on the farm and helps around the house.
“It was a family thing to do,” she said.
When asked about the difference between living on a farm and in the suburbs, Katie said it’s different because of the animals, of course.
“It’s just like having a job,” she said. “They [animals] are the boss of you.”
Enriquez agreed with that sentiment, saying you have to work your schedule around them to make sure they have care.
“Ours are very sweet,” Katie said.
Teddy, who is a major in biology, and according to Fix, is a “fantastic trumpet player on the side,” was at the farm on his spring break.
“No clear intentions on what I will be coming into,” he said, about his plans in the future.
It’s not entirely clear where the family farm will move to along the lineage going forward, but for now, Enriquez said, as a retiree, she said it’s a full-time job in the soap business.
“We’ll do it until we get tired of it,” she said.
It takes three hours to cut 300 bars of soap, where they then sit and cure for three months. They make the soap once a week.
“We’re kinda where we want to be,” Enriquez said. “We’re not trying to be a big business.”
They also produce goat milk lotions, lotion bars and lip balm.
“We’ve chosen not to add color to it,” Enriquez said, about the soap. “It’s meant to be a utility soap. We’ve chosen to be more simple.”
However, there are plenty of scents, including orange spice, cherry pie, oatmeal spout and lemongrass, among many more.
All the income from the business goes back into the farm’s infrastructure and the animal expenses.
The women are even thinking of branching out into goat therapy. But for now, they are content with the soap business.
“We make this work,” Enriquez said. “Our animals are fat, happy, healthy and they get everything they need.”
The next open house is scheduled for June 17, from 2 to 5 p.m.
This story originally appeared in the special edition, “Salute to the hands that feed us,” a supplement of the People’s Defender, News Democrat, Ripley Bee and The Clermont Sun.