Lee County

Entrepreneur turns excess goat milk into profits

Farming Entrepreneur

LEE COUNTY, Va. - You hear the term entrepreneur these days, and you think about a young guy coming up with the latest computer gadget and selling it for millions of dollars.

You surely don't think of a retired Marine with a dream of becoming a goat farmer, but that's exactly what we found high on a ridge in Lee County. Simply by accident, his farm created a product that just keeps growing..

Joe Bates had always wanted to raise goats, and once he retired from the Marine Corps he decided to do just that. He and his wife loved our region and began what you might call a 'gentleman's farm', but that quickly turned into a business. "It wasn't intended to be a business. We started with a garden plot, and we had too many vegetables. We took some to the farmers' market, and I said, 'I like this, this is neat,'" Bates said.

His real intentions were to raise goats to sell the dairy products. "We had goals of getting a decent-sized herd going, breeding them, building them up enough so we could eventually go in and get a farm loan to be a dairy. But we didn't think about the whole process in between, how much milk we are going to end up with," he said.

That excess goat milk turned into a product that is very much in demand -- the Bates Family Farm old-fashioned soaps and lotions made from that same milk that was getting poured out.

He and his wife took a class on how to do it, and with some tweaking it's really taking off.

He started taking some with him to the farmers' market. "The customers would come by and buy one, .Something local, it's old fashioned, fat and lye. All of sudden they're coming back, they're bringing friends, and people were saying, 'My cousin used your soap and told me all about it,'" he said.

And they told their friends and family, and so on until it was time for Bates to take some classes about how to be an entrepreneur. With the help of programs offered in Southwest Virginia for small businesses, he's on the fast track for success. "We've got 17 retail outlets throughout Southwest Virginia and over the line in Tennessee. We have one in Middlesboro, Kentucky and we have one in Pigeon Forge," he proudly told us.

A loan from the Lee County Industrial Development Authority now will help him hire some help, update equipment, and just keep growing. But that kind of happens naturally on the farm.

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