Prodigal Farm takes its name from a biblical story – only in this case there is no prodigal son, just a prodigal daughter. And Kathryn Spann hardly qualifies as “a wastrel.” She’d become a successful lawyer in Manhattan when she met Dave Krabbe, a high-end builder who dreamed of farming. After a holiday visit to North Carolina, they decided to move back to her family’s neighborhood in Rougemont. They now raise goats on 97 acres in northern Durham County and handcraft cheeses using the milk of their pastured herd.
When they arrived in 2010, the old tobacco farm they’d purchased was overgrown, but their first goats helped clear it. By 2012 they had 50 milking goats and planned to breed 90 more in the fall. We met the milkers in a broad sunny field, and closer to the house saw the young adults and a flock of newbies who were having their hooves trimmed during our visit. In addition, we met the posse of nine YA rebels whom Kathryn refers to as “the street urchins.” The street urchins swarmed us as we drove in, blocking the car until Dave called them. They milled around outside the milking parlor during our tour, and grazed on the nearby lawns when we came out for pictures. The electric fences do nothing to contain them.
With an eye on creating a “managed ecosystem” that produces “high quality food while building soil and conserving the habitat and biodiversity,” Kathryn and Dave have made Prodigal Farm a model of good stewardship. The goat herd is Animal Welfare Approved. The goats live and forage on pasture bordered by woodlands, using old schoolbuses for shelter from the rain and sun. Every week the herd is moved to new strips of pasture; this rotational grazing breaks the cycles of parasites to keep the goats healthy and forces the goats to eat a variety of greens (not just their favorites). It also benefits the pasture. The goats’ diet is supplemented with alfalfa hay (in winter), mineral supplements and kelp, and grain mix. If a goat does need medication, her milk is withheld for twice the recommended time. The goats never receive hormones and only receieve conventional medicines when necessary.
Since their goats live outside, Kathryn and Dave don’t remove their horns. In addition to protection, horns act as “radiators” that release heat to keep goats cool. And they’re good for scratching. (Goats don’t scratch each other’s itches, although they do use each other as scratching posts.) “They have the privilege [of horns] until they abuse it,” Kathryn says. A few of the goats are missing their tips.
Prodigal Farm milks the goats twice a day in a small milking parlor. The milk is pumped to a vintage tank that Dave bought specially from an Amish company; the old-style tank uses ice water (instead of coils) to keep milk cool; it is more energy efficient, does not risk freezing the milk, and can keep it cool for hours if the power goes out. As requried by law, they pasteurize the milk, using a low temperature and quickly cooling it to preserve the flavor and structure of the milk.
Kathryn attended the Farmstead Cheese course at NC State, but mostly she learned to make cheese by doing it. Her years in New York City had surrounded her with good food, giving her an idea of what she wanted to accomplish, and she’s realized that she has a good nose for foodmaking. The farm’s cheeses include a fresh chevre, a marinated feta, and several "bloomy rind" surface-ripened cheeses like the ash-coated Hunkadora (named after the original title of the town of Bahama) and the herb-encrusted Field of Creams. She checks the cheeses aging in the cheese cave and turns them daily. Kathryn had us sample the same cheese at different ages; in France, she notes, cheesemongers sell bloomy-rind goat cheese unripened so that customers can ripen it as they wish. (“As it ripens, the flavor intensifies, and at a certain point the paste begins to turn into a silky pudding. If the moisture content is low, the cheese will become more dry, with a more chalky consistency.”)
Kathryn and Dave attend cheese conferences and network with other local cheesemakers, and they are members of the Southern Cheesemakers Guild. Their farm was toured by attendees of the 2012 American Cheese Society conference, held in Raleigh. Kathryn also helped start the Triangle’s newest farmer’s market in South Durham. Kathryn and Dave’s commitment to local food and sustainable practices shines through when you visit Prodigal Farm.
Learn more about Prodigal Farm on their website, prodigalfarm.com, or on Facebook .
Watch a video of our visit on Youtube.