If you had told Steve Tate 22 years ago that he would own and operate a goat dairy farm in his late adult life, he might have laughed in disbelief. But on second thought, it would make perfect sense.
Steve and his sister Ginnie grew up on a corn farm in Illinois. “We had that in our blood and in our background,” Steve says, but they both went on to be urban professionals after leaving home. Steve directed a counseling center in Minneapolis, and Ginnie was a nurse in Chicago for 15 years — until she moved to Greensboro for a new job in 1984.
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Ginnie had been looking to get back to the land and owned two pet Nubian goats at the time. She was on a mission to find a farm in the Triad to call her own.
“She drove around the neighborhood with these two pet goats in her truck,” Steve recalls. “And if you happened to be in your yard, she’d screech over to the side of the road and stick her head out of the window and say, ‘Howdy! Do you know of any land around for sale?’”
Naturally, the neighbors started gossiping about this out-of-towner looking for land with two goats in her front seat.
“Someone who had not yet met my sister would come up to the gossip circle and ask who they were talking about,” Steve says. “And they’d all say, ‘Well, the Goat Lady, of course!’”
And just like that, Ginnie’s nickname and reputation were born.
Soon enough, she came across an abandoned tobacco farm in Randolph County. The land had been neglected for more than a decade and was in real danger of being lost to farming. There was a 200-year-old log cabin and outbuildings on the property. It was exactly the kind of place she was looking for.
Over the next decade, Ginnie restored the farm and grew her goat dairy hobby into something real. Steve and his wife and two sons would come visit in the summers, and it wasn’t long before his sister seduced them into partnering with her in starting a family-run goat dairy farm.
“No one thought it would be a success,” Steve says. “Because, goat cheese? In Randolph County? No. Everyone said it wouldn’t work — NC State, the Department of Agriculture, everyone.”
But when Steve and his family joined Ginnie in 1995, the Goat Lady Dairy became one of only two licensed goat cheese dairies in the state. And today, with the help of a major expansion in 2012, it is one of the biggest and oldest handcrafted cheese dairies in the South, with distribution across the East Coast and beyond.
From the beginning, Goat Lady Dairy’s mission has been to connect its urban neighbors with the land and support local farmers.
“The local food movement is really important. And it’s so satisfying to see that that’s not a trend,” Steve says.
One way that Goat Lady Dairy introduces the community to the local food movement and sustainability is with Open Farm Days. Twice a year the dairy invites families and friends to enjoy an afternoon of free education and fun on the farm. Visitors are able to interact with the farmers and animals, tour the gardens, learn about the dairy, and, of course, taste delicious handcrafted cheeses.
“We had 700 people here for our Open Farm Day in May,” Steve says. “Children were able to see chickens lay eggs for the first time. It’s important for children to have that aha moment where they’re connecting to real food and learning where it comes from.”
Dinner at the Dairy is another truly special way to experience everything that the farm has to offer. One weekend a month, in the spring and fall, guests enjoy an evening of fine dining including hors d’oeuvres on the porch, a guided tour, and a carefully curated, five-course menu featuring Goat Lady Dairy’s cheeses, herbs, vegetables, and local, pasture-raised meats. No evening is complete without the dairy’s famous Chocolate Goat Cheese Truffles.
Since day one, the Tate family made a point to spend their money as close to home as possible. They have fostered lasting relationships with families in the area, and have recently sold Goat Lady Dairy to Carrie and Bobby Bradds, who have worked with the farm for more than a decade.
“After working this hard, we have the opportunity to pass Goat Lady Dairy on to another local family farm,” Steve says. “The Bradds are younger than us and are going to be able to keep the dairy going, and that kind of sustainability from one generation to the next is very meaningful to us.”
Steve has officially passed the baton to the Bradds family but has high hopes for keeping the dairy close to home. When visitors and customers learn the history and story of the dairy, he believes that it causes them to care a little bit more about where their food comes from.
“Hopefully we can encourage people to care a little bit more about taking care of this good Earth we’ve been given,” Steve says. “And if that happens when you eat our cheese and hear our story, then we’re very satisfied.”
Goat Lady Dairy
3531 Jess Hackett Road, Climax