When Maureen Anderson wakes up every morning at 6 a.m., it isn’t to put on a suit to go to the office. It’s to spend time with goats in a field, raking and sweating.
“It’s easy to forget about female farmers,” Anderson said. “But when people imagine women on the farm, I want them to think, ‘Bad-ass, big muscles and powerful.’ That’s a female farmer.”
Anderson, owner and operator of Tasha’s Own, a company that sells goat milk soap, essential oils and other harvesting products at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market, has been getting her hands dirty to make her livelihood for the past 15 years. While raising two boys and six daughters, she also started her own business that she hopes has given her children a strong female role model.
“I feel like I’m a good role model, but it all starts with sweat, dirt and manure on my shoes,” she said.
Chickens in the bathtub
Anderson has always had a penchant for fields of hay and tractors. As a young girl, she attended a small private school in Loudoun County where most of the students belonged to farming families. During the spring and fall, Anderson remembers most of the men in school being out in the fields for the harvest.
“I grew up swimming in lakes at night, going to parties on the farm, eating raw corn on the cob and spending weekends helping my friends throw hay off the back of their tractors,” Anderson said.
Eventually, Anderson accumulated more goats and other farm animals until she found herself living a life of homesteading, a lifestyle that she wanted to share with her children.When she first started cultivating goat’s milk, handling a life with farm animals came natural to her. She decided to get her first goat after her daughter stopped breastfeeding, but there was so much extra goat’s milk that she just started making soap.
“My kids grew up riding horses and muckraking,” Anderson said. “In our house, there were chickens in the bathtub and goats in the yard.”
While Anderson never wanted to force her children into doing the farm work with her, she let them have their own way of enjoying the work.
“I let my children name all of the goats, but to avoid having a bunch of goats named ‘Fluffy,’ I told them the names had to come from literature,” she said.
Her daughter Ainsile Martin has taken the skills she learned growing up on the farm and applied them to her new business, Virginia Bread Co. Martin remembers growing up with large family dinners after working outside all day, where the food that was made sometimes came directly from their hard work. That’s how Martin fell in love with bread-making and decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps by opening her own business.That’s how Anderson ended up with a goat named Lydia from “Pride and Prejudice” and Matilda.
“She’s a huge inspiration for what I’m doing,” Martin said. “People told her that she should do something else, that she wouldn’t make money doing something like this, but she knew she loved what she does and decided to stick with it. That’s something I definitely learned from her.”
From tube feeding to margaritas
Until recently, Anderson and her family had their farm in Virginia Beach, but now Tasha’s Own operations have moved to the Lightfoot area. Anderson is hoping to get a larger space from James City County in the future to help grow her business.
The name for Tasha’s Own was inspired by a family friend who was a children’s book illustrator, Tasha Tudor. The roots that inspire every aspect of Anderson’s farming experience are what makes her product unique, she said.
By this point, Anderson has made thousands of bars of soap, and each one is hand-wrapped with a label and piece of cloth. The label shows a goat surrounded by a wreath made of different herbs used in the soaps, and the cloth represents Anderson’s six daughters, she said, because she used to sew clothes for them growing up.
But goat’s milk soap is more than just making a pretty product — from start to finish it is a slow process that takes a certain amount of craftsmanship and motherly love, both of which Anderson has plenty.
“People ask me, ‘How long does it take to make a bar of soap?’ And I always say, ‘Do you want to start when I’m turning a baby goat around in utero and helping deliver it?’” she said. “The process begins with conception and babies, babies that sometimes have to be tube-fed every two hours.”
After all of the work that goes into her business, Anderson said she winds down by having a margarita with friends. But even in doing this, she finds that she has to defend her type of womanhood.
On the social media pages for Tasha’s Own, Anderson does just that. She posts pictures that show her strong muscles but also share a more personal side of the female farmer. While she posts these images, Anderson admits that she is human and has doubts of herself all the time just like anyone else.“It feels like a jungle sometimes,” she said. “Men can go out and have drinks and it’s fine, but if it’s a girl in a hemp dress, then people think she should just be milking goats all the time. I want to promote strong women, being them and raising them, in any kind of setting.”
As she continues her work on the farm, sweating through long days and getting manure under her fingernails, she hopes to keep promoting a new image of womanhood.
“It’s hard for women to really talk about anything that’s not perfect,” she said. “We look at Instagram and see beautiful people with perfect lives, but I want to show the dirt, grit and hard work that women do everyday.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July, 2018.