by Laura Rodley
When Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell came to Peaked Mountain Farm in Townshend, VT three years ago to help with farm-caretaking, they didn’t know that they would start a thriving candy business, selling award winning caramels made from their own goat’s milk online and wholesale to 200 stores nationwide. They had an inkling only of a small business when they took on caretaking of sheep for the sheep dairy with permission to bring their own goats.
Since then, they have purchased 87 acres of the farm on top of steep Peaked Mountain Road, renamed it Big Picture Farm, and have four full time employees.
Their caramels were awarded the prestigious Good Foods Award in 2012, judged in different categories from five regions nationwide, awarded to “something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good,” according to www.goodfoodawards.org website.
“That first fall, we sold them at Brattleboro Farmers Market, six months of recipe tasting. Customers said that’s too soft, too hard, that’s just right,” said Conrad.
They had the good fortune of being “incubated by being with Peaked Mountain Farm, which had a commercial kitchen, and was a licensed dairy. Ordinarily it can be very cost prohibitive, if you don’t have a product yet,” said Conrad.
They already knew how to make goat cheese, having apprenticed at Blue Ledge Farm in Leicester, VT prior to learning from Michael Lee of Twig Farm in Cornwall, VT that Peaked Mountain Farm needed someone to spend winters at their farm and make sheep milk cheese.
“It was a little daunting, finding something we could do with goats that’s a little different,” she said.
Her brother Parker Conrad sent them some caramels that he was making in the kitchen, suggesting that they should make them with their goat milk. They tried it.
“Goat’s milk has shorter fatty acid chains so it breaks down a bit more easily, so when you cook it, it breaks down and makes a very smooth confection,” she said.
It was a new take on an old idea. Upon research, they found that neighbor Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield, VT was making caramel sauces out of goat’s milk, based on Cajeta, historically a traditional Mexican confection, cooking goat milk into a caramel sauce as a way to preserve it.
After the six months taste-tasting at the Brattleboro Farmers Market, their caramels were ready to go, running their own business on the side while assisting Peaked Mountain Farm in their business.
They now have four flavors: cocoa latte, which was featured in July on the Today Show for being a Sofi Silver finalist for best new product; maple cream; chai; sea salt and vanilla.
“We are not certified organic, but we don’t use pesticides or treat animals. We rotate animals on different pasture every day,” Conrad said. “It’s good management for goats, good for the land, keeps them happy.”
The farm’s name, Big Picture Farm, was a result a wedding toast made by her husband to her and her parents at their wedding. Farrell had commissioned her father, Whit Conrad of New York City, to paint a picture of a woman in a white dress in a field, entitled The Big Picture.
In addition, Conrad was a photographer and videographer before donning her farmer’s hat, and thinks in terms of “story,” or “narrative.” At their farm, “The narrative stays intact to the end of the picture, so the consumer gets the full story of where food comes from and how it was made — ‘the big picture.’”