Grace MacNeil and J.D. Roth of Full Moon Milk Soaps get together once a week to make soap; on a recent Sunday in rural Stinesville, their kids were playing space pirates and jumping on a trampoline, a small herd of sheep and their tiny lambs were grazing alongside goats and llamas, the sun was shining and the air was perfumed by the thick, creamy bars of clover blossom they were slicing.
But don’t let the dreamy pastoral image fool you; this is just a moment in two very hard-working, busy lives. In addition to being soap-makers, each co-owner wears several hats; both have small farms and young families, and MacNeil is a nurse while Roth has her own environmentally-sound painting, drywall, and landscape business. They started the soap business out of a love for DIY culture, gardening, and making high quality local products available in the community.
“I love being able to create my own health and beauty products, and being able to share them with other people,” MacNeil said.
MacNeil has lived on farms for much of her life, learning animal husbandry and sustainable agricultural practices. She studied herbal medicine, and went on to get her nursing degree. Now she works at a holistic medicine practice in town, and believes that both mainstream and alternative medical practices have their place in people’s lives. When MacNeil lived in Park City, Utah, she worked at a shop and a coworker started making soap; MacNeil, intrigued, rushed home to try it herself. “I took my first batch to the market and every bar sold,” she said.
Soap making was a good way to generate a little extra income while she stayed at home to care for her first son, who is now 16. Since then the family has moved several times and now includes three children, but MacNeil kept the idea of starting a small soap-making business in her back pocket. When the family moved to Stinesville to start what is now Full Moon Farm and be close to the local-agriculture-friendly Blooomington, friends introduced her to Roth, who was also into farming and was interested in starting a small business. Together they developed a signature soap recipe.
Using local ingredients was a top priority. The milk from the soaps mainly comes from Inunthia, the placid red cow named after MacNeil’s Spanish grandmother. Goat milk is provided by Fern and Lucy, who have a male companion, Sol, who Roth couldn’t bear to give up even though he’s useless in the milk department.
“He was our baby goat, and we have to take care of him for the rest of his life now. He used to ride around in a wagon with my son Sylvan and they would fight over Sol’s bottle,” Roth said.
They use coconut oil, olive oil, coco butter, and shea butter as the fats, but they’re interested in making a lard soap to make an even more local bar; MacNeil’s family raises guinea hogs. The water in the bars is from a spring on the hill of MacNeil’s property; it’s filtered before they use it. The scents come from herbs in the farmers’ gardens, and offerings change with the seasons. “We get inspired by what’s growing out in the garden and what smells good,” MacNeil said.
“I want to have a flower farm and grow fields and fields of flowers and herbs- this is a good excuse to do that,” Roth said.
Roth’s dream is in the process of coming true. She and her family are currently building a house in Greencastle on property that has been in her family for six generations. Until the mid-19th century it was a dairy, but since then it’s been used to grow soybeans and corn. Fullcircle Farm, Roth’s family’s project, is aimed at revitalizing the land and restoring it to its original health and vigor. To that end, they’re planting native grasses and grasses and setting up a garden. “The corn and soybeans really took it out of that field,” Roth said.
Getting together to make soap has become a time for the friends to relax, reconnect, and have fun doing what they love. “It’s fun to have that day a week,” set aside for soap making, MacNeil said. It’s also one small step toward bringing about the kind of world they want to live in; one where the earth is respected, where local, sustainable food and health products are readily available, and where people know and feel connected to one another.
For more photos, visit the Full Moon Milk set at our Flickr collection.