Author Novella Carpenter’s essay on her inner-city farm.
"Loved this article! Can't wait to read more, and to find out if I can buy bebe cheese in the East Bay. Thanks! "
Every morning, I pat the milking stand, which is housed in the laundry room of my apartment in a rundown neighborhood of Oakland, California, known as GhostTown, and say, “Come on up, come on up,” in a singsong voice. With her black-cloven hooves, Bebe steps up and I wipe her udder with a moist cloth. NPR’s Morning Edition usually plays in the background—I like to get some news during my milking sessions.
The milk comes out in steady streams into my improvised pail—a thrift-store Le Creuset pot that lost its top. I nuzzle my cheek onto Bebe’s flank; her udder is soft and pliable, warm, even on cold mornings. The baby goats—now 9 months old and not quite babies anymore—stand at the back door and cry, jealous.
I bought Bebe, my first milk goat, two years ago as part of my experiment in urban farming. I had already managed to raise turkeys, ducks, rabbits and two pigs on a vacant lot behind my apartment. Now, I was ready to try my hand at milking.
Bebe was four months pregnant when I went to meet her at a small farm in Lake County. She was speckled with black and tan markings and had a long white face. Her eyes were golden. It was February, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never milked a goat, and I had no clue what goats eat. I had a vague idea about making cheese.
“She only gives two cups of milk,” the goat farmer warned me as we sampled some of the herd’s milk. The farmer had been raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats with her children for 4-H shows. They had been disappointed with Bebe’s milk output. I looked at Bebe, regally gazing out at the far distance. Two cups didn’t seem that pitiful.