Saturday morning in the agricultural countryside of Waialua a small group huddles around a TV watching 15 goats march up a ramp. As the goats of Sweet Land Farm file into their prospective feeding stations a farmer standing in front of the TV describes the art of goat milking. Behind her, barns and farmhouses painted red with white trim stand amongst 47 acres of green guinea grass and alfalfa fields, bordered by Schofield Barracks–the largest US Army base in Hawai’i since 1941.
“Each goat produces about a gallon of milk per day,” the farmer explains while soldiers hold target practice a mile away. The military controls 22.4% of the land on O’ahu, occupying some of the richest land for agriculture. Throughout her presentation the gunshots sound like someone perpetually popping bubble wrap in the distance.
Locals and travelers from around the world visit Sweet Land Farm on the island of Oʻahu. They are here for the tour and the farm shop, which produces three types of cheese, a variety of pastries, coffee, gelato, soaps, lotions and more, all made with goat milk. Guests can relax on an expansive covered deck overlooking the pasture to enjoy their mac and cheese or affogato. The farm offers everything one could imagine a goat farm would, just shy of goat yoga.
Owner Emma Bello McCaulley was born and raised in Wahiawā, just a few miles from the farm. Her ancestors came to Hawaiʻi as missionaries in the 1800s. While attending culinary school she interned at the award-winning Alan Wong’s in Honolulu.
But Bello McCaulley was in search of a different kind of culinary experience. After a three month internship at Surfing Goat Dairy on Maui, she decided to stay for a year to help manage the farm and its interns.
“At the three month mark I had realized I wanted to be with the goats,” she said. “I wanted to be outside more than I wanted to be in the kitchen.“
Bello McCaulleyʻs parents were chicken farmers who met in college. They were happy to support the idea of their daughter going into agriculture. In a matter of a few months, they purchased land and along with Bello McCaulley’s brother began preparing it for farming.
Bello McCaulley returned to Oʻahu briefly to graduate from culinary school before heading to California for a seven month stint at a goat farm called Redwood Hill. By the time she returned to O’ahu for good she was ready to run a goat farm of her own. Within five months the family purchased 15 goats from Kauai Kunana Dairy and began making cheese. After acquiring a milking machine, that number grew to 30 and by 2010 Sweet Land Farm officially opened for business.
Now, at 32 years old, Bello McCaulley lives on the farm with her husband, new baby, her brother and her brother’s wife and baby. Mom and Dad both work full-time on the farm. She has a full staff, so that she can care for her newborn during the week. On the weekends, when visitors occupy the farm, she works in the farm shop.
In addition to target practice all day every day, the farm’s active duty military neighbors also regularly fire cannons, set off explosives and fly helicopters overhead. Despite the perceived warzone constantly going on around them the goats appear happy. “They are used to it,” Bello McCaulley laughed, as the rumbling of yet another military aircraft interrupts her.
As the farm guide leads the group into the barn she relays how much the goats love to be petted, cuddled, and of course fed. Bello McCaulley’s husband is there waiting to demonstrate how to milk a goat. After he is finished he invites everyone to try.
Penny, the oldest goat in the herd, stands tall with long ears and gray fur, striped white down the middle. She is the goat illustrated on the farm’s logo, but is the only goat in the barn the farmers will no longer milk.
Goat products are in high demand on the island of Oʻahu. Bello McCaulley receives several calls a week for goat cheese, milk and meat. The ability to sell milk and meat is still a long-term goal. Since the cattle industry takes priority at O’ahu’s only slaughterhouse Bello McCaulley does not have a USDA facility to process her goats for meat, and manufacturing milk requires equipment the farm does not yet own.
“We try to do everything ourselves as much as possible,” Bello McCaulley said. This means there is staff working on the farm seven days a week, 16 hours a day growing feed for the goats, caring for the goats and for the land, pasteurizing milk, producing and packaging all value-added products onsite and processing and delivering wholesale orders.
Although a farmer by trade, Bello McCaulley still uses her culinary background. “My mom and I test out recipes and tweak them,” she said. “Our caramel recipe is actually an old family recipe. … One of the KCC [Kapiolani Community College] senior culinary classes developed our gelato recipe and we worked with them to perfect it to our liking.”
Mom makes about 40 gallons of caramel and 30 gallons of gelato a week. Twice a week the production team makes feta, gouda and tomme cheese. They produce 800 pounds a week of just fresh chevre alone.
“We put our heart and soul into creating products and educating the public,” Bello McCaulley said. “I want kids to learn that food doesn’t come from the grocery store.”
Visit Sweet Land Farm on O’ahu for a tour every Saturday at 10:00 and 11:45 a..m.. The farm shop is open Fridays 10:00-2:00 p.m. and Saturdays 9:00-2:00 p.m. 65-1031A Kaukonahua Road, Waialua, HI 96791. 808-228-6838