Webster Groves resident makes milk, cheese with goats

PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE / The Journal Merryl Winstein milks one of her six goats in her garage in Webster Groves.

Merryl Winstein wakes up every morning at six to tend her three-quarter-acre farm. She walks out her back door, through her yard and into a barn where she greets her six goats. She feeds and milks them, checks on her dozen chickens and tends to her vegetable gardens.

“I always wanted to live on a farm,” Winstein, 55, said. “Since I was a little kid.”

Unlike most farms, Winstein’s is sandwiched between a neighbor’s house and a tennis court on Bompart Avenue. Winstein and her husband, Richard, have lived there since 1990.

Winstein was turned down by City Hall several times when she asked about keeping farm animals in Webster Groves. It wasn’t until she got a physical copy of the ordinance that she found she could go through an application process to gain permission to get her chickens and goats. She got her chickens the spring after she moved in, and the goats soon after, in 1993.

Winstein said she was motivated to buy her first goat when agricultural giant Monsanto developed their bovine growth hormone in 1991. She didn’t want her children to drink milk treated with the hormone, so she started making her own.

After the initial struggle of getting her animals, Winstein taught herself how to harvest milk from her goats and, after 15 years of making bad cheese, how to successfully make cheese.

“People have a fantasy that they could just go out and get some chickens or a goat or a cow and they’d survive and be sustainable,” Winstein said. “It takes a tremendous amount of skills — and they’re not common sense — in order to harvest food from animals or from a garden.”

Today, Winstein locally sells raw milk, cheese and eggs and teaches cheese-making classes (using both goat and cow milk). She is very careful about choosing her goats, making sure to taste their milk before buying them. She likes to test the flavor. Each goat produces different tasting milk, depending on the fat and protein content.

Goats only produce milk before and after giving birth. Of her six goats (Adeline, Buttercup, Peachy, Celeste, Ruby and Pearl), two are currently pregnant and producing milk. When the goats age and stop producing milk, Winstein will either sell the goat or, on occasion, use the goat for meat.

With its close proximity to Webster, environmental studies chair Karla Armbruster recently took her environmental studies class to visit Winstein’s farm.

“Food is a very important issue in terms of the environment,” Armbruster said. “She (Winstein) shows an alternative to industrial farming, so I thought it would be good to show. She is very knowledgeable about the industrial food industry and also what she does.”

After milking the goats, Winstein simply strains the milk to remove any hair or dirt and cools the milk in ice water before refrigerating it. She charges $3.50 for a quart of goat milk and $4 for a dozen eggs.

“There are no preservatives and no additives,” Winstein said. “No artificial ingredients or dyes. There’s no advertising and there’s nothing to throw away. The quality of the food, of course, is the best. There is no comparison between raw milk and pasteurized milk.”

Claire Tyson, junior environmental studies major, bought milk and eggs from Winstein for three months in the spring. Tyson said she liked knowing where her food was coming from, and that the milk had a better taste and consistency and the eggs physically felt healthier, with darker yolks.

“There’s just better ways to do things, that’s for sure,” Tyson said. “Sometimes it’s worth the price. It’s not worth it to buy a gallon of milk at the store when you think about health benefits. It’s just better to buy local.”

Winstein said farming is one of the most time consuming professions or hobbies. She milks her goats twice a day and usually has to provide her own veterinary care to the goats, because many professionals around Webster Groves are not trained to treat goats. Although she has always wanted to live on a farm, Winstein acknowledges the difficulty of the lifestyle.

“People would really like to have organic food or grass-fed milk or other things they read about, and people wonder why there’s not that much of it around,” Winstein said. “The reason is because it takes a whole lot of work. … Instead of demanding these foods, they should raise them. It doesn’t go along with a modern lifestyle. It’s a different kind of world.”

Even so, Armbruster said she sees a growing popularity in people raising their own food and wouldn’t mind joining in.

“There’s been a huge trend in raising chickens,” Armbruster said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more people started doing this, because people really are getting fed up with the food system. I don’t want to romanticize farming, but I would definitely like to try it someday.”

Winstein is currently writing a book about the proper techniques of cheese making. Despite the hard work that goes along with having a farm, Winstein enjoys her work.

“I think if it’s something people want to try, they should try it and they shouldn’t wait,” Winstein said. “It’s totally basic and it’s completely the opposite of spending the day in front of the computer, which is completely artificial in every way. I get to come home and do something real.”

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