Lisa Black, Fields of Gold Farm
Lisa and her goat milk Gelato is the type of small farm entrepreneur the world needs. But without the help of one of the Food Freedom Foundation’s organizations that we support through grants, (The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund [The Fund] in this case), her business would have folded. Lisa credits the calm presence of one of The Fund’s lawyers during a key on-farm meeting of North Carolina Department of Agriculture personnel (the inspector and a supervisor) to a successful outcome. Her story is below.
Lisa has farming in her blood. Since the age of 8, her love for horses and farm life has taken her on an incredible journey. In the 1960’s, she found herself raising horses, veggies, apples and hay with her parents. They also bordered horses for extra money.
By her college years, her parents farm had shrunk to just livestock because Hurricane Ivin had damaged 25% of their trees. In 2004, she took time off to care for her seriously ill mother. The pain she saw her mother go through led her to a degree in Advanced Quantum Biofeedback. She has held that license for 17 years. The pain relief she saw in her mother opened her eyes to entrepreneurship in the health and wellness industry. Her goal is to take agricultural principles and improve them to increase general vitality, health and life. The biofeedback treatment that started with her mother now extends to not only other people, but her goats and her land.
She started with 2 Oberhasli goats in 2009, which are on the Conservancy list of endangered breeds. She had received funding in 2009 to study and develop a business plan. By 2011, an investor had purchased a greenhouse for her to use for starting plants. And by 2014 she was running a crew of 7, a 100 member CSA (community supported agriculture), a 30 goat milk dairy with other livestock. She says her farm is the only certified organic, biodynamic dairy she knows of.
When she started talking to customers about a product outside of goat milk, the subject of ice cream came up again and again. She decided gelato was the perfect fit. Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. It starts out with a similar custard base as ice cream, but has a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all). It is churned at a much slower rate, incorporating less air and leaving the gelato denser than ice cream. Because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, the main ingredient flavor really shines through.
In North Carolina, raw milk can be sold as pet food. To make Gelato and sell retail, a Grade A license is required. Lisa attended Gelato University in Winston Salam and connected with Gelato chefs for training and understanding.
Equipment to make Gelato is expensive and she applied for equipment loans in 2014.Chocolate and vanilla were the first flavors she dabbled in and perfected. Later, she found herself making 45 different flavors!
She started selling her product at booths at festivals and events. In 2018, just before COVID, her product was in 12 stores. She had passed all initial on-farm inspections.
Her problems with government regulations started over a base ingredient used at the Gelato University in Winston Salam. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) decided the base ingredient was inappropriate for retail and demanded all of her product get pulled off the retail shelves and destroyed. Store managers were bewildered. Communications between Lisa and NCDA officials broke down. Lisa called The Fund. Susie Israel was assigned to her case. By serendipity, Ms. Israel was speaking at a Mother Earth News Conference in Asheville on the very weekend the inspectors were going to be at Lisa’s farm for another meeting. Ms. Israel was able to attend that farm meeting. The NCDA officials approved the NC retail license for Lisa right there. They also agreed to call all 12 store’s to tell the managers Lisa’s product was approved.
Lisa credits Ms. Israel’s presence and calm, non-confrontational style with the successful outcome. Lisa is using the same base ingredient and the same equipment as before the confrontation.
Unfortunately, she sells only in one store right now (the Hendersonville Food Cooperative in Hendersonville, NC) and on her farm. Her two other goat milk sources scaled back from selling wholesale and COVID lost her a lot of customers.
Right now funding is her biggest limitation. She has 51 people signed up for a CSA for her goat milk as soon as she can gear up again. Her final messages are to be strong and try to see the best side of things. She believes you will weather the storm. And to right a wrong, you can’t do it in an angry antagonistic way. You can’t get mean and angry.
And find good people who can cover your back.
Name of Farm / Farmer: Lisa Black
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org