January 13, 2023 at 9:29 p.m.
Today, the couple, along with sons, Stephen and Shane, and daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Steve Johnson, oversee a herd of 600 goats and milk 275 in a double-24 parallel pit parlor at Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm in Scandia. Christine and Vincent’s other son, Seth, lives with his family in Spokane, Washington.
At times, the goat herd at Poplar Hill has numbered 1,000.
“We still have chickens too,” Vincent said.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the farm’s existence, and Poplar Hill shows no signs of slowing down. The herd today consists of a variety of breeds.
“We have Alpines, Saanens, Nubians and Toggenburgs,” Christine said. “All are registered with the (American Dairy Goat Association).”
Poplar Hill is the only dairy in Minnesota supplying Grade A pasteurized goat milk.
The farm produces enough milk to not only carton and market under the Poplar Hill name but to also sell to Stickney Hill Dairy for cheese production. Poplar Hill milk is sold in large grocery stores such as Cub Foods, Kowalski’s, Eastside Foods, Lunds & Byerlys and many more. Numerous smaller stores carry their product as well.
The family also sells 13 varieties of soap made from goat milk and hosts tours by appointment for both large and small groups.
Poplar Hill bucks and does are sold across the United States and in 15 countries. The best bucks are sold for breeding. Others are sold for pets or meat. Through the years, the demand for goat meat has been increasing.
“One thing that has helped our business is the ethnic diversification of America,” Vincent said. “For us, that’s especially in the Twin Cities area.”
The farm’s success has come from the family’s joyful appreciation of, and careful attention to, their goats.
“We’ve enjoyed the animals,” Christine said. “They are delightful.”
The couple’s journey to owning a goat farm did not begin rurally. Although Christine and Vincent never met as children, both were born in Brooklyn, New York. Christine was raised there while Vincent was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In what seems like fate, each attended the University of Oklahoma and met there. Vincent studied philosophy and theology while Christine studied political science.
After falling in love, they moved to New York and married. Christine enrolled at Columbia University to earn a master’s degree in elementary education.
At this time, they joined the Catholic Worker Movement to help serve people in poor urban areas. The movement, co-founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, began during the Great Depression and offered what they called houses of hospitality where the poor and homeless could eat and stay. This branched out to small farms, which Maurin called agronomic universities. The idea was to create communities of self-sufficient farms that could help raise food to share with the poor. Still today, about 200 such urban and rural communities exist across the world.
Drawn to the idea of running a farm in this model, the Maefskys moved to Oklahoma and then to Kansas to establish an agricultural community. They purchased pigs and chickens and looked for a cow to buy for milk.
They also wrote a letter to Day to tell her what they were doing; she published their letter in the Catholic Worker newspaper. A reader from the Bronx, New York, wrote to the Maefskys, suggesting they buy goats instead of a cow because of the lower cost and because he thought they were great animals.
The Maefskys took his advice and bought their first goat.
“We named her Dorothy, of course,” Vincent said.
Then, a job for Christine in the Minneapolis Public Schools led the Maefskys to migrate to Minnesota with their menagerie of animals.
At first, they stayed on a friend’s property, and Vincent got a job as a realtor.
One day in 1972, Vincent brought a client to an old farmstead in the rolling hills in Scandia. Vincent realized the farmstead’s potential and showed it to Christine. They bought the property themselves. The house on it was 120 years old.
“It had a garden hose inside for water and no central heat, but the barn was magnificent,” Christine said.
The house, restored and updated, is where Christine and Vincent live today.
With the purchase of the farm, Poplar Hill Dairy was born. The farm’s name pays homage to the poplar trees that grew there but later died.
“Never name your farm after a tree with a short life expectancy,” Vincent said. “Sequoia Hill Farm would be all right, but not Poplar. We’re still here, but the poplars are gone.”
Within three years, Poplar Hill’s herd had grown and was producing a lot of milk. The Maefskys needed a plan for selling and moving product.
“In 1975, we bought a home delivery milk truck from Land O’Lakes,” Vincent said.
They hauled their milk to the North Branch Creamery in Minnesota for pasteurization and then delivered the milk to retailers.
Many other changes have happened through the years as well along with an impressive list of successes and awards.
In 2016, Christine and Vincent became the first goat dairy farmers to be inducted into the Minnesota Livestock Breeders’ Association Hall of Fame. They are also the Minnesota Dairy Goat Association founders, and in 2018, their family was awarded the ADGA Pioneer Award, which is given each year to a member or family that has made a significant contribution to the goat industry.
The Maefskys are also one of only three families that have shown goats at the Minnesota State Fair every year since goats have been shown on the fairgrounds in St. Paul.
“That means we’ve been there for 42 years,” Vincent said.
Poplar Hill goats excelled at the most recent fair in 2022. One was reserve grand champion, another earned best junior doe in show and a third received both grand champion 4-H Alpine junior doe and best junior doe in show.
Other successes have come outside of the farm. Christine worked in Minneapolis Public Schools until 2000 and then spent 10 more years as a consultant for teachers throughout the United States. She has also just begun her fourth term as mayor of Scandia.
“That makes me ‘first gentleman,’” Vincent said. “All of the glory but none of the responsibility.”
Together, they have long been involved with the University of Minnesota’s veterinary program, allowing their farm to be a place for students to learn and research. Vincent has lectured nationally and internationally, sharing his expertise in dairy goat farming. Both have worked with Heifer Project International and have hosted 33 international agriculture trainees from 19 countries.
Both said the farm has brought joy to them and their family.
“We’ve enjoyed our grandchildren growing up around the farm,” Christine said. “We have made good friends among other goat breeders.”
Vincent said they appreciate the man who advised them to purchase goats all those years ago.
“He said I should forget about cows and buy goats,” he said. “He told me that they were smarter, friendlier creatures and that they made wonderful milk. He was right.”