PJ Jonas, 39, left the city life behind with her husband, Jim, and their children for rural Indiana and never looked back. With the help of her family, she turned a hobby into a national business selling chemical-free goat milk soap, lotions and bath products.
PJ didn’t set out to launch a big company, but when people found that their goat milk soap helped ailing skin problems, the word spread fast. From their family farm, the Jonas family packs and ships orders from Goat Milk Stuff across the globe.
By PJ Jonas
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin
When I was pregnant with my sixth child in 2004, it hit me that it was time to leave city living. I really wanted a natural lifestyle and lots of room for my kids to run around and play. I also wanted my kids to learn about raising animals and growing food. We packed up our things in Trenton, New Jersey, and planted ourselves on a three acre farm in rural Indiana, where Alpine dairy goats graze in the pasture.
We had no experience with goats, but I was a systems engineer before becoming a stay at home mom and Jim was a middle school science teacher, so we figured we could learn.
We also felt we could teach. We decided to homeschool our children before they were even born. Jim has a master’s degree in teaching and we were very aware of the challenges and problems in public education. Homeschooling allows us to customize the learning for our eight kids, ages four to 15, and we can prepare them for careers suited to their strengths and preferences while giving them individualized support for their weaknesses.
I started my soap making business, Goat Milk Stuff (GMS), as a hobby in 2008. I didn’t want to use chemicals on my children’s skin so I made soaps and when I saw that Jim’s cracked, dry hands were healed by the goat milk soap, I knew I was onto something. We use the highest quality goat milk and the soaps are gentle enough for babies.
When the business grew to the point that we had to decide whether to bring my husband on full time or scale it back, we had a family meeting. Everybody had input and the vote was unanimous to make Goat Milk Stuff a full time business and bring Daddy home.
All eight kids work for the business — from feeding and milking the goats to packaging the soaps. I think work is a part of life and I want my children to embrace it and find something they love to do.
A balanced life
My biggest challenge is making sure we don’t get too busy or stressed out. We regularly take family vacations. Several times a year we get the children away from the farm so they have absolutely nothing that they have to do for an entire week. It keeps them excited about working with the goats and the business.
Working with my family is extremely rewarding, but what I love most is the fact that by making a simple bar of soap, I’m able to improve other people’s lives. People who have suffered from painful or uncomfortable skin conditions for years have written to tell me that our soap has brought them relief even though expensive prescriptions and other treatments had failed. My kids have seen how their efforts have helped other people.
When you live, study and work together, there’s no hiding from anybody. If something is bothering one of my children, I know about it immediately and can stop what I’m doing to talk with that child. My children see me making mistakes and they know that I’m not perfect, but I’m doing the best that I can and it makes us all very accepting of who we are. We love each other, faults and all, and our farm life has only brought us closer.
We follow “the youngest person rule” at our house. The youngest person capable of doing a job does it. Kids are much more capable of doing jobs than many moms think they are. Yes, you can do it better and yes, you can do it faster, but you’ll end up doing everything. Train you kids to share the workload so you can all work together and then play together.