Soap and Bread and Goats – OH MY!

Soap and Bread and Goats – OH MY!

Kansas 4-H Goats Lead to Thriving Farmers Market Business

By Peggy Bair

Long ago on a farm not far away, a 4-H project turned into a Kansas family business that still thrives today as a Farmers Market vendor you’ll find at Haymarket Square on summer Saturday mornings in Leavenworth, KS. This is the Sharinger family’s 12th year at the market.

Beth’s Kydz Sudz are home crafted soaps lovingly prepared out of the kitchen of Patty and David Sharinger out in the Salt Creek Valley Kickapoo Township of Leavenworth County, KS. They are made with goat milk from goats that live on their 1.5 acre property. Patty does the kitchen part and David does the chores of taking care of the goats and running errands – and also making product labels. Patty also tends to the online presence and branding.

The offerings are goat milk soap (what the heck? – yeah, well, we’ll get to that) goat milk fudge and caramels, as well as artisan and traditional yeast breads.

The whole enterprise got started with the couple’s daughter Elizabeth took Dairy Goat as her 4-H project back when she was a youngster. Her registered herd name is “Beth’s Kydz” – thus the name for the soap “Beth’s Kydz Sudz”.

A little history about Patty and David: Patty was born and raised in Leavenworth but David was born and raised in Shehoygan, Wisconsin. The couple met when David was stationed at Fort Leavenworth and they’ve been married for 35 years this July. David is retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Patty has 33 years of federal service, the last 25 years working for the Directorate of Public Works at Fort Leavenworth. She has been working from home during the pandemic.

Patty started making soap about 15 years ago. It took quite a long time to get it formulated right, including some education in soap making chemistry. But she finally arrived at a formula that pleased family and friends and met their skin care needs.

Patty’s father made the original soap molds out of scrap wood from his lumber pile. She said her father passed away in 2013 “But I still feel his encouragement,” since she still uses the molds he made for her back then.

“Goats are wonderful animals,” Patty said.  “They provide a commodity, but are also pets. They each develop their own unique personality. They are wonderful animals for young children considering a 4-H project.”

The Sharingers’ nieces raised dairy goats for several years before gifting their cousin Beth with a pair of goats named Twinkle and Thumper.

Goat milk translates to soap in a process called “saponification” which is a chemical reaction that happens when fats and oils react with lye (sodium hydroxide), Patty explained.

“A lot of soap makers use water or other liquids like beer or read to dissolve the lye,” said Patty. “We use goat milk as 100% of our liquid. Goat milk rejuvenates the skin, acting as a natural moisturizer. It contains several nutrients including vitamins A, B and E, amino and fatty acids which do wonderful things to nourish your skin,” she said. 

Cosmetic grade colors are added to the soaps mixture.

Patty said she took a soap making class through a Women in the Outdoors event sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Foundation. “Making soap can be very intimidating,” Patty said, “even with all of the information in the world wide web. Taking a class and watching someone make soap makes it more approachable.”

Patty still uses the molds her father first made in the early days of her soap making venture.

Her daughter, Sarah, helps come up with catchy soap names for new soaps and descriptions for the website. The two brainstorm and come up with new soap fragrances together. “I think the involvement of family is what makes it special still.

As far as the soap – it is just way too much fun to experiment with essential and fragrance oils and different colors! That’s why we now have over 30 different soaps when our inventory is full!” Patty said.

Not everything works out perfectly, though.

“With soap, it is so much fun to experiment!  But sometimes the way I picture a new soap in my head isn’t the way it turns out.  Soap making is a science and so many things can influence the end result!  When I started making round soaps using PVC pipe as a mold, I accidentally created a soap volcano.  I didn’t realize the essential oils I was using would heat up so fast and I went ahead and insulated the soap after I poured it in to the mold just as I always did. In a matter of minutes there was a volcanic flow of hot soap bubbling up through the top of the mold.  Lesson learned!” Patty said.

On the flip side (the good side), there are the happy accidents.

“One of our most popular soaps, Woodstock, was an accident of sorts,” Patty said.  “When I was new to soap making, I had samples of three different essential oils – none of which were enough to make a batch of soap on their own. I dumped them together and the blend was amazing!  The essential oils were reminiscent of the 60’s (one of them being Patchouli) and when I was telling our daughter, Sarah, about them, she suggested the name Woodstock. I can’t think of those clever, catchy names, so I leave that to our girls! We’ve had several customers notice the name, chuckle and purchase a bar or two for themselves and a friend.  ‘Oh the memories,’ they will say! 

We have a tag line on each bar of soap, which is ‘Because it’s the little things that matter most.’  We try to portray that in all of our products.  Our soaps are made in small batches and all cut by hand.  I am very sentimental and nostalgic. I believe the people in our lives from days gone by help make us who we are today; nostalgia connects my past to my present and my future,” she added. 

At the moments, the Sharingers have seven does and six kids that were just born this past spring. Once the babies are weaned, she said they will downsize a bit.

“We get attached to the babies, though, and it is hard to send them to new homes. Goats have such fun personalities,” Patty said.

The goats are Lamancha, a friendly breed with tiny ears that make them appear earless. They are excellent milk producers.

The Sharingers currently have 1.5 acres but will soon be moving to a 10 acre space they purchased several years ago not far from their current residence.

The Sharingers’ products can be purchased also at JET Produce and Meats Store out on Tonganoxie Road in Leavenworth. They buy all their feed and supplies for the goats from Kansas Country Store in Leavenworth.

“It makes me feel like our soap has come full circle seeing it on the shelf in their awesome gift store!”

Patty’s 12 year old sourdough starter she keeps in a jar. (No, you can’t have some. You have to start your own.)
“We have maintained a healthy sourdough starter that will celebrated its 12thbirthday in April!  We feed it regularly to keep it happy and bubbly.” Patty said.  ©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

Patty’s mother comes up on Fridays while she bakes the breads and as they cool, her mother labels soaps, fudges or whatever else needs doing at that particular kitchen session.

From breads to soap making, family appears to be the foundation of Patty’s kitchen journey:

My grandparents taught me to bake bread when I was 12 years old.  My grandmother baked all of their bread. I still have the notes that I jotted down while they were teaching me.  You see, there was no recipe.  It was all done by sight and feel…I remember my grandpa measuring the salt in the palm of his hand. He would say “Add enough water until it is about 2 inches from the top of the bowl.”  Grandma kneaded the dough until it was “as smooth as a baby’s cheek.” There was no weighing of ingredients in grams or directions to knead 6 – 8 minutes using the dough hook of a stand mixer. It was truly something they did together that was not rushed or hurried.  Perhaps that’s what draws me to bread baking.  It is a way to escape from the fast-paced world that knocks at my door everyday. I still have the page of notes I took as I watched and learned that day; it is one of my most cherished treasures!  

There is also the website with an online store. “We process quite a few orders through our website during the holiday season. We have several military families that purchase soap at the market and order from us after they relocate to another duty station. It’s fun to keep in touch with them. We have shipped soap to soldiers serving in Iraq, Germany and various other corners of the world,” Patty said.

Ever in the spirit of family, Patty said that selling at the Farmers Market spreads that family spirit as well.

“We love the farmer’s market style of selling products because it gives us an opportunity to talk in person about our products. It is also very rewarding to see a happy customer come to our table week after week.  We have gained so many friends through the market; fellow vendors as well as customers.  There is a definite sense of family there.”

The pandemic brought some special circumstances to selling products at the market. Unfortunately, at the first of the market opening, they couldn’t allow people to handle the products so they had to hold the bars at a safe distance to “sniff” them.

With the breads, people simply point to them and then they are placed in the bags for them.

“When we originally started participating in the market, we brought about 3 or 4 different types of breads and about 10 different soaps.  Customers started asking if we could make certain breads for them…rye, challah, bagels, baguettes, etc.   We started making them each week and the list has grown each year! I love to try new recipes and spend a lot of time in the winter doing just that.  We’ll cycle through different recipes now and then, but make sure to bring the ‘favorites’ each week as time allows,” Patty said.  

“I feel like bread baking is somewhat of a legacy in our family.  I remember enjoying my Great Grandma Striegel’s whole wheat bread with her homemade chili sauce as a treat while sitting on her porch. I have many fond memories watching and learning with my Grandma and Grandpa Harnish bake bread. They didn’t measure anything – it was all made by sight and feel. I hope someday I have that gift!  I have Grandma Striegel and Grandma Harnish’s bread pans and other tools of the trade. It is almost like having them in the kitchen with me.  Both of our daughters bake beautiful breads and I am thankful they have learned how. To me, bread baking is a type of therapy.  It is a stress reliever and there is something therapeutic about working with dough.  If I am baking bread to give to someone, I like to pray for them while I knead the dough. There is nothing that makes a house smell more inviting and homier than the smell of fresh bread baking,” Patty said.

Patty has a full time job besides the market duties.

“Having a full-time job and meeting the supply and demand of an at-home business can be a challenge.  I make soap in the evenings and as time allows on weekends.  I am a morning person, so my favorite time to make soap is early in the morning if possible.  Our bread is all baked on Fridays so that it is fresh for the market Saturday morning. Thursday evenings are spent getting all of the starters for the breads prepared, labels printed and anything else that can be done to prepare for baking day,” said Patty.

Patty said that they love the farmers market “because of the sense of community and family that it brings to us. We all pitch in to help each other and our customers.”

“We get to know our customers and look for them from year to year,” Patty said.  “When we don’t see them, we are concerned.

I remember when we hadn’t seen one of our regular sourdough bread customers for quite some time. Late in the market season, she finally appeared, wearing a bright pink hat and a shirt with a big pink ribbon. She explained to us that she just finished chemotherapy for breast cancer and that for quite some time, nothing tasted good to her or sounded appetizing. She went on to tell us that particular day was the first day she felt like getting out by herself.  Her first stop was the market to pick up a loaf of our sourdough bread because she had a craving for it and had missed it and us. We had missed her too and we every so happy to be there for her in many ways that day.

As for the Farmers Market, Patty added these words to her interview with Heart KC:

The Leavenworth Farmers Market has so much to offer.  I’ve learned so much from the other vendors!  It is so fun to share recipes, products and stories with fellow vendors and customers!  We’ve tried new products that have become favorites! I guarantee that you will find lots and lots of smiles from friendly vendors as well as amazing local products at our market! 

It is amazing how the farmers market has become such a big part of who we are. It has blessed us in so many ways, but mostly by the friendships it has kindled. We love the visits with our weekly customers and the good feeling that comes when a new customer returns and purchases another bar of soap because they loved the way the first bar made their skin feel.  I love it when a young baker asks me a question about a baking bread!  I love to chat, and chatting about breads is a bonus!  I feel we need to share the talents and gifts God gave us and the market is a wonderful outlet for that. 

Opening day at the 2020 Leavenworth Farmers Market meant a drive up experience but buyers were still able to get their products by pointing out their choices from the comfort of their cars. ©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

Peggy Bair is a Midwest journalist and photographer covering human interest stories throughout Middle America.

I am an alum of the English Department of the University of Missouri – Kansas City. I am a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, the National Press Photographers Association and Professional Photographers of America. I have worked on the staff of six different newspapers throughout my career and specialize in people stories.

Your support of local journalism helps keep bringing these stories to uplift your spirits. Although my business has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not accepted any payment, grants, government assistance or unemployment for my journalism during this pandemic. If you would like to donate to the support honest storytelling, you can contribute to my PayPal by posting any amount to my PayPal donation link.