‘Feminist farmer’ crafts a new role model for women

Maureen Anderson promotes the life of a female farmer through her soap business

Maureen Anderson, is the owner of Tasha's Own, a local company that sells hand-made soap from goats milk as well as other products made from organic herbs. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
Maureen Anderson is the owner of Tasha’s Own, a company that sells hand-made soap from goats milk as well as other products made from organic herbs. (Alexa Doiron/Southside Daily)

When Maureen Anderson, 53, wakes up every morning at 6, it isn’t to put on a suit to go to the office. It’s to spend time with goats in a field, raking muck and sweating.

“It’s easy to forget about female farmers,” Anderson said. “But when people imagine women on the farm, I want them to think, ‘Bad-ass, big muscles and powerful.’ That’s a female farmer.”

Anderson, owner and operator of Tasha’s Own, a company that sells goat milk soap, essential oils and other harvesting products at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market, has been getting her hands dirty to make her livelihood for the past 15 years. While raising two boys and six daughters, she also started her own business that she hopes has given her children a strong female role model.

“I feel like I’m a good role model, but it all starts with sweat, dirt and manure on my shoes,” she said.

Chickens in the bathtub

Anderson has always had a penchant for fields of hay and tractors.

As a young girl, she attended a small private school in Loudoun County where most of the students belonged to farming families. During the spring and fall, Anderson remembers most of the men in school being out in the fields for the harvest.

“I grew up swimming in lakes at night, going to parties on the farm, eating raw corn on the cob and spending weekends helping my friends throw hay off the back of their tractors,” Anderson said.

Anderson tries to get out to the farm early to beat the heat of the day. Her process for producing the goats milk that the soap is made of begins from the moment of a conception to hand-cutting hundreds of bars of soap. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
Maureen Anderson tries to get out to the farm early to beat the heat of the day. Her process for producing the goat’s milk that the soap is made of begins from the moment of a conception to hand-cutting hundreds of bars of soap. (Alexa Doiron/Southside Daily)

When she first started cultivating goat’s milk, handling a life with farm animals came natural to her. She decided to get her first goat after her daughter stopped breastfeeding, but there was so much extra goat’s milk that she just started making soap.

Eventually, Anderson accumulated more goats and other farm animals until she found herself living a life of homesteading, a lifestyle that she wanted to share with her children.

“My kids grew up riding horses and muckraking,” Anderson said. “In our house, there were chickens in the bathtub and goats in the yard.”

While Anderson never wanted to force her children into doing the farm work with her, she let them have their own way of enjoying the work.

“I let my children name all of the goats, but to avoid having a bunch of goats named ‘Fluffy,’ I told them the names had to come from literature,” she said.

Anderson does most of the work herself, including harvesting honey from her personal beehive to collecting sassafras off the side of the road, but she credits a strong support system of friends and family for her success. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
Maureen Anderson does most of the work herself, including harvesting honey from her personal beehive to collecting sassafras off the side of the road, but she credits a strong support system of friends and family for her success. (Alexa Doiron/Southside Daily)

That’s how Anderson ended up with a goat named Lydia from “Pride and Prejudice” and Matilda.

Her daughter Ainsile Martin, 21, has taken the skills she learned growing up on the farm and applied them to her new business, Virginia Bread Co. Martin remembers growing up with large family dinners after working outside all day, where the food that was made sometimes came directly from their hard work. That’s how Martin fell in love with bread-making and decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps by opening her own business.

“She’s a huge inspiration for what I’m doing,” Martin said. “People told her that she should do something else, that she wouldn’t make money doing something like this, but she knew she loved what she does and decided to stick with it. That’s something I definitely learned from her.”

From tube feeding to margaritas

Until recently, Anderson and her family had their farm in Virginia Beach, but now Tasha’s Own operations have moved to the Lightfoot area. Anderson is hoping to get a larger space from James City County in the future to help grow her business.

Each bar is hand-cut and individually wrapped with a piece of cloth and a label. Every part of Anderson's product holds meaning in some way, with the cloth representing her six daughters and the wreath representing the herbs. The personal touches are a part of what makes her product special, she said. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
Each bar is hand-cut and individually wrapped with a piece of cloth and a label. Every part of Anderson’s product holds meaning in some way, with the cloth representing her six daughters and the wreath representing the herbs. The personal touches are a part of what makes her product special, she said. (Alexa Doiron/Southside Daily)

The name for Tasha’s Own was inspired by a family friend who was a children’s book illustrator, Tasha Tudor. The roots that inspire every aspect of Anderson’s farming experience are what makes her product unique, she said.

By this point, Anderson has made thousands of bars of soap, and each one is hand-wrapped with a label and piece of cloth. The label shows a goat surrounded by a wreath made of different herbs used in the soaps, and the cloth represents Anderson’s six daughters, she said, because she used to sew clothes for them growing up.

But goat’s milk soap is more than just making a pretty product — from start to finish it is a slow process that takes a certain amount of craftsmanship and motherly love, both of which Anderson has plenty.

“People ask me, ‘How long does it take to make a bar of soap?’ And I always say, ‘Do you want to start when I’m turning a baby goat around in utero and helping deliver it?’” she said. “The process begins with conception and babies, babies that sometimes have to be tube-fed every two hours.”

After all of the work that goes into her business, Anderson said she winds down by having a margarita with friends. But even in doing this, she finds that she has to defend her type of womanhood.

Anderson first started raising goats when her daughter was going off milk. She said once you buy one goat, you can't stop and now she has a whole lifestyle built around the animals. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
Maureen Anderson first started raising goats when her daughter was going off milk. She said once you buy one goat, you can’t stop and now she has a whole lifestyle built around the animals. (Alexa Doiron/Southside Daily)

“It feels like a jungle sometimes,” she said. “Men can go out and have drinks and it’s fine, but if it’s a girl in a hemp dress, then people think she should just be milking goats all the time. I want to promote strong women, being them and raising them, in any kind of setting.”

On the social media pages for Tasha’s Own, Anderson does just that. She posts pictures that show her strong muscles but also share a more personal side of the female farmer. While she posts these images, though, Anderson admits that she is human and has doubts of herself all the time just like anyone else.

But, as she continues her work on the farm, sweating through long days and getting manure under her fingernails, she hopes to keep promoting a new image of womanhood.

“It’s hard for women to really talk about anything that’s not perfect,” she said. “We look at Instagram and see beautiful people with perfect lives, but I want to show the dirt, grit and hard work that women do everyday.”

This story was published in partnership with our sister publication, WYDaily.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.