The Donkey Whisperer
Late last month at a local Lyndhurst Seeley’s Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting, I met the owners of a new business in Lyndhurst, and I knew right away that I needed to know more about their farm. Annick Rousseau and her business partner Jean-Sebastien Gagne own Berry Homestead Farm.
The farm name sounds like any other fruit farm might, however, what sparked my interest wasn’t the name or the fact that they are planting elderberries but instead the products they said they were making. They had me at “donkey milk soap.” The notion of milking donkeys was something new to me, and I instinctively wanted to learn more.
I have spent my entire life in the agricultural industry in one form or another, yet I never had once heard tell of milking donkeys. My only knowledge of donkeys up to this point is their innate ability to provide excellent livestock guardians for other more productive animals on the farm as I saw it. I must admit I now feel ashamed that this was my misconception of what is obviously a productive animal in itself and what should be well respected and honored for its important role on the farm.
Fortunately for me, Annick took time out of her busy schedule to teach me about these intelligent, caring animals that provide her and Jean-Sebastien with so much more than their vitamin and protein packed milk to use for soap. Annick gave me a history lesson on donkeys and their desire to work hard, to protect their land, their herd, and their humans and to be treated as equals. She recounted her first introduction to donkeys when she lived in France, and as a young girl watched along side her beloved Grandmother as donkeys were used for transporting the salt that was harvested from the ocean back to the villages.
Annick wouldn’t come into contact with donkeys again until she was grown and living on a farm in Quebec and required a livestock guardian for her flock of sheep. One donkey turned into several as her affection for the breed grew and with that came trips to Normandy France where Annick received specialized training with donkeys learning about temperament, handling, and all things donkey related. Upon return, Annick began making donkey milk soap similar to that made in France. The low fat, high vitamin and protein content of donkey milk makes it a great ingredient for those with sensitive skin. Highly regarded in places such as Italy, donkey milk is purchased for babies who are allergic to human milk. Belgium is also home to clinics that provide donkey milk therapy to rebuild immune systems in those who have completed chemotherapy treatment.
Annick has been making donkey milk soap for seven years now, although it has just been introduced to our local market recently as Annick and Jean-Sebastien are new to the area. Both living in Athens while construction on their new home takes place here in Lyndhurst, Annick and Jean-Sebastien are busy with the donkeys and also preparing the elderberry plantation that the farm is named after. Twenty Five acres on an unassuming road through another farmers field sits a little piece of paradise. A field with a friendly fuzzy faced three-week old baby donkey named Dori and her watchful mom and aunt close by provided a perfect view when I stopped by to visit with Annick. She told me of the plans for the organic elderberries that are expected to be ready for harvesting in 2 years and at full production in 4 years.
When asked why elderberries other than for the obvious reason that they are a fruit that is overlooked in this area, Annick quickly described the health properties of the little-known berries. The elderberry fruit is considered food for healthy longevity, and along with the actual berry the flowers, leaves, and wood are also highly regarded. Annick’s background in farming, experience as President in the Agro. Tourism industry and work with tourism development are impressive.
However, her love for the donkeys and her desire for others to respect the often misunderstood animal makes me have a new appreciation for the donkey. The loyalty and devotion she has for the donkeys are obviously reciprocated as she walks among them spraying her own naturally prepared bug repellant on them and scratching their heads. Annick stresses that donkeys are animals with a strong team spirit and admits that, “if you don’t work with them and you are not a team player, treating them fairly then yes they can become an ass!”
There are Horse Whisperers and Dog Whisperers, and now I believe I have met the Donkey Whisperer! We are lucky to have access to such a talent, and the donkeys are fortunate to have such an advocate in their corner. To contact Annick and Jean-Sebastien, you can message them on facebook. They are also at the Lansdowne Market every Friday from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
I can attest that these pure, natural, handcrafted donkey milk soaps made with the finest skin nourishing ingredients are as delicate on the skin as they are delightful to look at. They are available for purchase at the following businesses: Wendy’s Country Market in Lyndhurst carries a special line for sensitive skin, The Green Gecko and Briarlea Kitchens both in Lyndhurst also carry specialty lines. All varieties can be found in Brockville at Skintastic Laser and Cosmetic Clinic, and there are plans to make donkey milk soap available at other fine shops in the area (I have provided some suggestions for additional businesses who might be interested).