Stetson Stories: Jessup Family Ranch
Story and photography by Samuel Martin.
Grace and her husband, Sebron Jessup are first-generation ranchers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. For Grace, the real joy of owning their ranch is doing work together as a family. From bottle-feeding the kid goats to cleaning the barn and helping milk the does, each one feels that they have a hand in the business’ success.
“We involve the kids in everything, whether it’s gathering eggs, splitting firewood, cutting hay, or feeding the animals – there is something everyone can do. The work may take longer but it’s richer with them.”
It’s 6 am on a Saturday morning and Grace Jessup is seated on a small stool in the breezeway of the family barn, milking a goat. The barn is silent in the morning’s twilight except for the quiet chewing of the doe, and the ringing of the milk into the pan. Across the yard lies the family farm house where the chickens are beginning to peck under the maple trees.
It’s spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life is growing in the fields and along the forest edge. Robins are playing in the high winds and nanny goats are nearing their spring kidding – Grace expects 5 or 6 kids from her two does this spring. The chickens are laying more frequently and Grace and her 5 children fill the basket every morning from the roost and various hiding places. The kids are home from school and play barefoot in the grass as the world finds its footing once again.
While living in Texas and working on a dairy farm, Grace realized she wanted to own her own small herd of goats again. “I raised goats growing up and wanted to get back into it. But we knew if we got goats that we would want them to pull their weight and be involved in the family business,” She says.
A month later their first doe kidded and Grace launched Jessup Ranch Soap. “When I made that first batch of soap in 2016 I posted it on Facebook and sold out within 2 hours, and that’s when it really clicked with me that this was something – I could make it be something,” Grace remembers.
The business has continued to grow as Grace has added new bars and scents to their offering. Using the old-fashioned cold process to create her soap, Grace must cure each bar for 4 weeks before it can be used. She is careful to point out that the business’ success is grounded in hand-crafting every bar from the milk sourced from their herd. “What sets us apart is we use real, raw milk. While some goats milk soap crafters use powdered milk, I can point to the goats in our herd and say the soap came from them.”
For Grace, the real joy of owning her small business is involving her children in the work with her. From bottle feeding the kid goats to cleaning the barn and helping milk the does, each one feels that they have a hand in the business’ success.
“We expect a lot from them – they are learning to be gritty and resilient. This lifestyle teaches them confidence in themselves and their abilities to do things on their own and solve problems. They are learning hard work isn’t bad. For many people that can be a negative concept, but working together towards something that we love as a family is rewarding. It can be dirty and hard but seeing their pride at the finished product can’t be matched.”
The morning is bright now as and the day has taken a strong hold of the land. Grace leads the final doe onto the milking platform and pulls the milk pail closer. Her youngest, Winslow, has joined us in the barn and is close at her side watching the process unfold while holding onto a fistful of fabric from her shirt.
“There is the verse in Psalms that says ‘He makes the grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth.’ Sebron and I have instilled in our kids from the beginning that it is our responsibility to care for the land and livestock in our care and in return they give us eggs, meat, and milk. And the hard work we put into this season carries over into the next season, and the decisions we make now have a long term affect. We are raising them to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with.”