For Nichole and Evan Flaherty, the animals they care for are much more than fun family pets.
The goats in the backyard, who live among newly acquired sheep and more than a dozen chickens, are their most valuable co-workers. They alone can produce the milk used to make the colorful, fragrant line of goat milk soaps the Flahertys have been perfecting for the last two years.
“I made the first batch of soap with no fragrance or color or anything and, looking back, boy, that was hideous,” Evan Flaherty said with a laugh on a recent afternoon in his farmhouse kitchen.
These days, he leaves most of the soap-making and other business tasks to his wife, Nichole, who runs the Hidden Acres Homestead business on top of being a part-time nurse and a full-time mother. Since that first batch of soap, she’s not only mastered the art of fragrance mixing but expanded the brand’s offerings to include seasonal soaps in bright colors with sculpted carrots and eggs for Easter, raspberries for Valentine’s Day and lobsters for summer.
“I was addicted. I was making all these fragrances and shapes and themes and it just went from there,” she said. “I’m definitely evolving and my skills are getting better. I’m making brighter colors, better layers and getting into soap dough and soap frosting.”
The soap-making process is a lot less Colonial-on-the-farm and a lot more like a high school chemistry experiment. Flaherty wears gloves and goggles to protect her from any harsh chemical reactions, makes soap only when her son is in preschool and has to mix the ingredients at the exact right time and temperature to ensure the soap sets correctly, is the right consistency and has the best color.
Flaherty uses breastmilk bags to store frozen goat milk, which she mixes with lye into a bowl of shea butter, lard and three different oils − coconut, olive and sunflower. The process involves ice baths, a thermometer and an industrial emulsion blender before any color or fragrance is added. It is then poured into a mold and refrigerated until it hardens, then it sits for six weeks before it can be cut and sold. She makes about 200 bars a week.
“I never stop planning,” Nichole Flaherty said. “You see a retail store pushing Easter merch in December and roll your eyes, but that’s what I have to do.”
The evolution of Hidden Acres is apparent on the brand’s website, which has gone from selling only two options to more than a dozen, including lavender, cashmere and orange and patchouli. This year’s Valentine’s Day collection includes strawberry champagne, a layered shades of love bar and a raspberry chocolate ganache, complete with a sculpted raspberry also made of soap.
“People like the complex designs and the scents of our signature lines,” Nichole Flaherty said. “It looks pretty and smells amazing. I’m always having people say, ‘Oh, it’s too pretty to use, but it’ll look great on my sink.'”
Evan Flaherty jokes that his wife is evidence that everyone has a creative side, they just have to find it. He said Nichole spent years trying various crafts and other activities before she finally found her niche, and it’s something local residents seem to love.
“She a one-man show. I’m just out there scooping poop,” he said of his farm chores. “It’s a quality product, made locally and by hand. Right now, all of the money is going back into the business, but someday it’ll be helping us raise our son. You can see where the money is going, and I think people really like that.”
Hidden Acres Homestead soap starts at $8 a bar. It is for sale at hiddenacres247.com and in several shops, including Beautiful Horizon in Weymouth, Mayflower Mercantile in Plympton and Sisters’ Seaside Shoppe in Plymouth.
Hidden Acres also hosts in-person events for families wanting a taste of farm life, like goat yoga, open farm days and an upcoming Easter on the Farm day that will include a professional photographer and a visit from the Easter bunny.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.