By Eleanor Ruffes
The first thing you notice when you enter Phenie Sawyer’s farm off Mandarin’s Aladdin Road is goats. Lots and lots of goats. More than 30 goats of various breeds are playing, eating, resting, jumping and giving rise to mischief across Sawyer’s rolling 10-acre farm.
A Jacksonville native, Sawyer has been raising goats and harvesting their sweet cream milk here in Mandarin for more than 20 years. After years of cultivating goat cheese with her daughter, Sawyer set her sights on creating soap from scratch using her abundant goat’s milk supply. Preferred Organics, offering artisan goat’s milk soap and natural homekeeping solutions, was born.
“My sister-in-law told me she saw an episode of ‘Oprah’ that featured her favorite goat’s milk soap makers and customers raving about their products. She said people were going nuts over how awesome the soap was, so I thought, why not give it a try? Of course, the first batch was horrendous! A mess,” Sawyer said.
That’s because making soap isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. It’s an art form; a science.
“Just a little too much or a little too little of any ingredient can ruin the entire batch. It takes a lot of playing around to find the right combination, and that combination will change whenever you want to create a new scent,” Sawyer said.
Through trial and error Sawyer hatched the right combination; her stall on Farmer’s Row at Riverside Arts Market sees repeat customers week after week.
Moisturizing, naturally scented and gorgeous to look at, Sawyer’s soaps are a non-comedogenic delight. One ounce of raw goat’s milk goes into each bar. This sets her apart from competitors.
“Many soapmakers have to use goat’s milk powder in their soap; they simply don’t have the resources to use raw milk. I have over 30 goats and use only raw sweet cream goat’s milk in my soaps,” she said.
Any additional ingredients used are natural and high quality. Sawyer is committed to creating soap without parabens, sulfates, phthalates and petrochemicals; she uses herbs and food-based colorants to give her soap bars flair and dimension. Oils and powders are food-grade, which means they are not cut with synthetic chemicals like comparable cosmetic-grade oils are.
Sawyer cares about sustainability of ingredients that go into her soap. “There is a lot of controversy surrounding the harvesting of palm oil. [Monkeys] are being displaced at rapidly increasing numbers in order to fill the demand for this oil. Palm oil is a commonly used soap ingredient. Whenever possible I replace palm oil with coconut butter. Now my soap moisturizes your skin while also being kind to our planet,” she said.
It’s worth noting that these soaps are handmade with care, right in “mama’s kitchen.” Sawyer makes an astonishing 60 – 70 pounds of soap each week, by hand, in a separate kitchen in her home. Each day she works on a step of the soapmaking process, whipping ingredients together in small batches that are never more than 120 – 130 ounces.
By the way — your dog can smell nice, too. Sawyer’s line includes a unique blend for canine customers.
“My dog soaps use sea salt and activated bamboo charcoal as an antibacterial agent. It’s great at removing odor from a dog’s skin and hair,” she said.
Sawyer currently offers 75 – 80 varieties of soap. Her most popular soap, Eczema Relief, is very soothing and less irritating to skin than other soaps since it is a special blend that includes walnut and hemp oil. Also popular is Blemish Buster, which utilizes activated bamboo charcoal as an antibacterial agent. The Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar is another bestseller, while the Cucumber Melon Scrub bar is a winner — an excellent exfoliator for anyone looking to slough off dry skin.
Visit Preferred Organics at the Riverside Arts Market every Saturday or visit www.preferredorganics.com for more information.
Photos by Eleanor Ruffes
Phenie Sawyer with one of her many goats