Some things are a little easier to buy local than others. Gourmet food? Fresno’s got you covered. Adorable boutiques? I’ve told you all about them. Now, great bath and facial products? That had mostly been a conundrum. I wanted to tell you where to get the best stuff to make your skin look and feel great, but I didn’t really use anything that was locally made or even locally sold.
Fortunately, I was introduced to the all-around awesome Basilwood Farm at Old Town Flea a few weeks ago. Now, give me the chance to try out some pretty-smelling products, and I’m already a happy girl. But when you tell me that these products are made with milk from your own goats and I can actually, like, meet said goats? I’m so totally there.
This is how I found myself driving up the 168 East to Prather last weekend. (Sidebar: The drive, which is the same one you take to Shaver Lake, is really very gorgeous and peaceful. You forget with all the hustle and bustle and development in the city these days that we’re just miles away from nature.)
Nestled about 30 minutes outside of Fresno, Basilwood Farm is a five-acre slice of paradise (and fun) owned and operated by Jill Spruance and her family. About seven years ago, Jill and her husband bought two goats just to produce milk for personal consumption. Originally, she didn’t even know how to milk goats.
“I’m trying to milk these goats [and] nothing, I mean nothing is coming out. Nothing!” Jill said. “And I’m going, ‘What am I doing?’ So I call my niece, who has goats, and I said, ‘Emily, my goats are broken!’ She just started laughing.”
Eventually, Jill got the hang of it. And then she actually found herself with more milk than she and her husband could drink.
“They were producing an excess of milk for just the two of us, and so I started looking for other things that I could do with it,” Jill said. “I fell on yogurt and cheese and soap and just started making soap and really enjoyed making it. And bing, bang, boom, here we are!”
“Bing, bang, boom” is putting it humbly, considering the amount of work and research that is put into every small-batch, natural Basilwood Farm product. With just body soaps alone, they have 46 varieties listed on their website. Most have great scents. Many are swirled with pretty colors. Some contain oatmeal exfoliants, avocado butter or coffee butter to help tighten skin.
Each of the soaps contains raw milk from Basilwood goats, a herd (is herd the right word?) that has grown to eight females (or, “does”) who produce milk daily. Their milk is also used in facial soaps and body lotions.
Eventually, the Basilwood team (which now includes Jill’s husband and daughters, as well as other employees) branched out to products that didn’t include goat’s milk. There are bath bombs, face and body scrubs (I recommend the Dead Sea Salt Scrub with lavender and locally produced Enzo’s Olive Oil), body butters, lip balm, eye make-up remover, and even laundry soap.
“People are always asking what is my favorite soap, and I always tell them I don’t make soaps that I don’t like,” Jill said. “So it just depends on the day or what I’m currently using or what I want it to do. … [The clay soaps] leave your skin feeling different. They’ll soak up a little bit of excess oil if you’re feeling a little oily, and they’re also very soothing. But if I want to exfoliate, I’ll use face scrub.”
In keeping with the spirit of the farm, which Jill and her husband originally used just to grow food for their own family, Basilwood also makes and sells a few edible items, namely sherry vinegar, spice mixtures, 100% pure vanilla, and vanilla sugar, which is produced using the beans from the vanilla, left in sugar for six months.
In the summer, Basilwood hosts cheese-making classes, using the excess milk that the goats produce during those months. The afternoon classes include cheese hors d’oeuvres and wine, while the evening class comes with a farm-fresh dinner.
While her husband and daughter lead the class, Jill said her job is “comic relief and socialization.” Which would be enough to make me want to attend the class, considering she is warm and funny and I just want to hang out with her! (Incidentally, Jill also uses these skills to host field trip tours for local school groups.)
If you’d like to check out Basilwood Farm for yourself, their boutique is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 am. to 3 p.m.
If you can’t make the drive up to Prather (although you really, really should do it sometime), Basilwood Farm products are available online and at dozens of stores locally and statewide, including The Foundry Collective, 3 Oaks Studio in Clovis and Fresno, Bravo Farms in Traver, and The Vintage Market at 601 in Fresno.
P.S. I totally got to pet some goats, and they were awesome. One tried to eat my River Raised tank, so clearly she has great taste.