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Love of animals leads Woodworths to cheesey life

Jack Woodworth and his family began raising milk goats by chance.
After moving to the area from Connecticut, Woodworth promised his three children they would look at buying some goats.
They were seeking cashmere goats, but when the breeder called and said she wouldn’t be able to show the goats that day, Woodworth found an ad in the local paper for milk goats.
The Woodworths purchased two bucks and two does, and now they have a thriving farm of more than 100 goats, and a dairy they call “Ziegenwald.” (Ziegen is the German word for goat, wald is German for “woods” for Woodworth).
From this flock, Woodworth and his wife produce a large variety of cheeses that they sell at the Jonesborough Farmers Market.
Woodworth didn’t start out as a farmer.
After serving eight years in the military, stationed in Germany, Woodworth returned to the U.S. and considered getting a farm. But about a week after he got out of the service, he was offered a job in a factory in Connecticut and he took it.
“It looked like it was going to be pretty good, but after about 12 years, it started going downhill,” says Woodworth. “So I said, ‘Well, now it’s time to look for a farm.’”
The Woodworths looked all over New England, but couldn’t find anything they liked or could afford.
When a friend in the Tri-Cities area mentioned to Woodworth there was a farm for sale nearby, Woodworth and his family came to look at it.
About a year later, they were able to move from Connecticut to their new farm, Opossum’s Bottom Farm, in Gate City, Va.
When Woodworth bought his first milk goats in 1994, he and his family were really just trying to avoid the chemicals that were added to milk.
They began by making cheese for themselves, but in 2001, decided to get a commercial dairy license.
The Woodworths did most of the work themselves, and in May 2008, nearly seven years later, they had built the dairy and acquired all of the necessary equipment to get their Grade A dairy license.
“We called (Jonesborough Farmers Market organizer Karen Childress) here at the market and she said, ‘Come on down,’” Woodworth said of selling at the Jonesborough market. “So we came down with our little card table. We didn’t have a tent or anything. This was the very first year when the market was out behind the library. We did well and we’ve grown from there.”
Woodworth also sells at a farmers market in Norton, Va.
He appreciates both the Jonesborough Farmers Market and the market in Norton, he says, because they are producer-only markets.
While he has been invited to other markets, he prefers these markets. He even serves on the boards of both, and also represents both markets at the Farmers Market Association.
“I think the whole idea of the farmers market is for farmers, not for people who are going out and buying stuff and then reselling it,” he says. “I make sure that people know we’re a producer-only market and that’s what a market should be.”
Woodworth works full-time on his farm, which has expanded beyond goats to include pigs, cows, horses, rabbits, chickens and all kinds of poultry.
He also has a garden and grows seed for a seed company, including beans, tomatoes, peppers and other annual vegetables.
Family member preferences catalyzed farm expansions.
“My wife always wanted a horse, so we got two of them,” says Woodworth. “The chickens and stuff, we wanted them around for eggs and for meat. We raise rabbits for meat and for pets. Usually I raise a couple of pigs every year on the whey (the leftovers from the cheese).
“I’ll sell one pig and butcher one pig. The sheep were something that I wanted, so we just have them around. They’re wool breeds, so we can sheer them and use the wool, but we don’t really use the wool for anything. Usually I’ll put a couple of them in the freezer every year so that we have some lamb. Every now and then we’ll raise a cow for some meat, or a bull – whatever we can get cheap.”
While Woodworth’s wife works as a nurse, she also helps with the milking and cheese making.
When they became a Grade A dairy, they upgraded from a portable milker to an in-line system that allows them to milk six goats at a time.
Woodworth’s wife begins the milking around 6 a.m. before she leaves for work, then, Woodworth finishes the milking, feeds, waters and takes care of other farm tasks.
All of the farm work combined with the cheese making is quite a process, Woodworth says.
In addition to milking the goats and taking care of all of the animals, Woodworth has to pasteurize the goat’s milk, clean all of the equipment used for the milking and pasteurizing and then make the cheese.
“We keep inventory sheets everywhere,” Woodworth says. “I do two markets each week. My son is doing the Bristol market, so we have to keep track of what we have in the freezer so that we don’t run out, but occasionally we do.”
Woodworth and his wife make an assortment of cheeses – plain, dill, garlic and dill, garlic and basil, basil without garlic, garlic with black pepper, chives, raspberry, strawberry, peach, apricot, and mulberry. Woodworth is working on cheddar and Parmesan.
After several careers, Woodworth is happy doing what he loves.
He has always liked animals and even attended a vocational high school where he was able to work with animals.
“I was in the FFA and all that stuff,” he says, “but never really intended to go into farming. It just kind of happened. It was one of those things that just worked out.”