By Brandy Harrison
NEWTONVILLE — When out of the blue her literary agent husband suggested they leave fast-paced Toronto behind and buy a farm, television producer Debbie Nightingale didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t know what prompted him. He’s never really been into animals or the country or dirt,” says the Newtonville goat farmer about her husband Shain Jaffe. “I figured I’d better not waver because if I missed a beat, he’d change his mind. Three weeks later we bought the farm.”
When Jaffe retired two years later in 2009, Nightingale suggested they add a few goats to the mix at the Campbellford hobby farm.
“He indulged me,” she says. “Four became about 30 over the course of a few years.”
The hand, foot, and cuticle cream she made from milking between three and eight Nigerian dwarf goats went over so well at the Campbellford farmers’ market that Nightingale wondered if she was onto something. But OMAFRA had bad news: Cheese making would take about a $1 million investment.
Instead, she partnered with artisan candy makers and in 2013 launched Haute Goat, debuting skin care products as well as a line of goat cheese chocolates and later adding other sweet treats such as salted caramels and caramel corn.
Sales online, through the on-farm store, a handful of retailers, and consumer shows have doubled in just two years and Nightingale says she is now earning enough income for the farm to sustain itself without other revenue sources.
“They’re not cheap and as a result, they don’t fly off the shelves, but they’re starting to,” says Nightingale, who sold out of caramel corn at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this year.
She’s hired a social media company to help suss out when to post to get the most views and what might get people talking on Facebook and Twitter. It’s been well worth it, she says.
“There is a buzz. It’s built a following for us. People who follow you are dedicated and loyal and want to see your next product. They feel emotionally attached to your product.”
Nightingale and Jaffe moved again in September, this time to Newtonville, just off Hwy 401 in Durham Region, to get more Greater Toronto Area traffic. At 62 and with Jaffe nearly 10 years older, Nightingale says the idea was to downsize.
“We’re getting older, even though we’re busier than ever. We went from 25 to 200 acres — that’s how we downsized. That’s us. We don’t do anything the easy way,” she says, already hatching plans to do more on-farm events, expand Jaffe’s shitake mushroom and garlic acreage, and add more animals. “If you have the blood of an entrepreneur, you’re willing to take the risks. I won’t be sitting in a rocking chair — I can tell you that.”