Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese has its origins in a 4-H project that Ana Cox’s daughter began more than 40 years ago in California’s Monterey County. By the time Ana married her husband, Gilbert Cox, in 1983, the project had grown into a small business, shipping goat milk to San Luis Obispo County at a low wholesale price for processing. Although Gilbert had no experience with goats or farming, he was a natural and the couple continued to grow the business. They soon came to the conclusion, however, that purchasing hay, producing milk, then selling it cheaply and shipping it away made little sense, and began looking for a place where they could control their entire operation and add value to their milk.
In 2001, Ana and Gilbert bought a 130-acre farm in the Little Lake Valley, just outside of Willits, and named the new operation Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese. The size of the Coxes’ new farm allowed them to grow their own hay without chemicals, avoiding the need to purchase expensive feed from questionable sources. They also began building a milking barn and cheese plant so they could process their own milk. Today, the couple milks 98 does and has a herd of 189 goats, including kids, bucks and yearlings, producing a range of artisan goat cheeses that are handmade on the ranch from start to finish. In addition to Ana and Gilbert, the dairy is run by Mike Sturn who has lived and worked on the farm since they moved to their current location.
The goat herd is made up mainly of La Mancha and Alpine dairy goats, which have mellow temperaments and produce a high volume of milk. While consistent production is important to any dairy, Ana explains that managing the goats out on pasture is an integral part of their operation: “Letting our animals have the chance to be out enjoying our ranch and eating what is good for them is the most important thing for us. We don’t push them like larger dairies—we let them be goats.” Goats graze fields after hay is cut and are also fed whey leftover from the cheese-making process. Water from the cheese-making process is also recycled. “In short,” says Ana, “we leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. We explain to customers that their purchase is an investment in the future of safe and healthy food, in a day that has witnessed an unprecedented loss of family farms.”
Ana and Gilbert were recently awarded Agriculturalists of the Year 2013 at the Mendocino County Redwood Empire Fair, a reflection of their outstanding management practices and the respect they hold among the local farming community. They also received a Certificate of Recognition from California State Senator Noreen Evans and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congressman Jared Huffman. Achieving AWA certification for their dairy goats also distinguishes their high-welfare animal husbandry practices. Ana and Gilbert chose to pursue AWA-certification for their dairy because their customers care where their food comes from. “We agreed with the AWA philosophy and while our local markets know us, those that don’t know us as well are looking for something that verifies we’re raising our animals the way we say we are,” says Ana.
The Coxes intend to continue expanding their market into the San Francisco Bay Area and southern California, but don’t expect to grow the herd further. Eventually, Ana’s daughter, Shoshana Avrashon, whose 4-H project spurred the dairy so many years ago and who currently works for the USDA, will take over the family business.
Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese is available at farmers’ markets in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties and stores throughout northern California. To buy cheese directly from the farm—or to place an order for shipment anywhere in the US—contact Ana at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 459-2363. To learn more about the farm, visit http://shamrockartisangoatcheese.com/, or AWA’s Online Directory to find a complete list of their vendors.