The Soap Dairy makes traditional cold process soap using Jersey milk from the farm’s dairy cow. What would traditionally be called a ‘house’ cow, she provides milk for her calf as well as the household. Nestled amongst the craggy peaks and rolling green hills of the beautiful southern Lake District, Nibthwaite Grange Farm sits proudly overlooking Coniston Water, an upland farm inspired by the local landscape in everything we do.
Most soap nowadays is made with palm oil. Palm oil is incredibly cheap and makes a hard, long-lasting bar of soap, however, the environmental damage caused by palm oil production led us to seek out alternatives. The oils we use instead are British cold pressed rapeseed oil from Mr. Hugh’s and rice bran oil – both very nourishing oils. We also use coconut oil which is an anti-bacterial cleansing oil. What was important when developing our soap recipes was that the soap was cleansing but not drying and did not irritate the skin. The combination of these three oils, as well as the creamy Jersey milk, does just that.
We use creamy Jersey milk in all our soaps. Our Jersey cow is called Honeysuckle. Unlike in most dairies, we leave Honeysuckle with her calf to rear herself. This is called a calf-at-foot system. She produces far too much milk to feed just one calf so she’s feeding three, at the moment. The other two calves are from twins and the mums (they are beef cows and don’t produce as much milk as dairy cows) didn’t have enough milk to feed two calves, or the inclination! Honeysuckle naturally fed them without us putting any pressure on her. When we need milk for our coffee or for making soap, she lets us milk her using our portable milking machine.
The farm is run by John Atkinson with the help of his father Bill and his partner Maria Benjamin. The Atkinson’s have farmed Nibthwaite Grange for six generations and have lived in the surrounding area since records began six hundred years ago. The farm specialises in conservation grazing, keeping traditional breeds of livestock including some rare breeds of cattle and sheep.
Farm Diversification has become an important part of the farm business and something that Maria in particularly is passionate about. For the farm to thrive and not be reliant on farm subsidies, John and Maria felt it was important to put their energy into growing relevant small businesses that enhance the work they do on the farm. They see it as going ‘back to the future’. Small family mixed farms were the norm, and it is only in more recent years that farming has specialised and intensified, largely to its detriment.