Family Trades the Suburbs for the Farm Life and a Soap Business
For Allan and Melissa Awtrey, a swing set prompted a major life decision.
The couple had been living in Plano with their three young children, but when their suburban lot was so small that they couldn’t fit play equipment inside the fence, they started looking for a small farm for a weekend getaway.
Their search started in Waxahachie, then expanded until they found something in their price range. They were thrilled to find a 53-acre farm near Hillsboro, which they bought in 2007 with financing from Lone Star Ag Credit.
The family enjoyed living there on weekends, but it only took six months for the 100-mile drive to get old.
“We sold our house in the suburbs and never looked back!” Melissa says.
The farm soon inspired a cottage industry when the family bought a couple of dairy goats, replacing commercial soaps that caused an allergic reaction with their own goat-milk soap. Initially, 48 bars would last the Awtreys all year, but after a neighbor sold some of their lavender soap to co-workers, there was a demand for more. Before long their soap had a brand name — Mason Jar Farm — and new markets at a feed store in Malone and a dairy in Abbott. Then in 2014, Melissa started selling at the downtown Hillsboro Farmers Market.
“We have been growing bigger each year, but last year was a turning point for the soap company,” Melissa says. “I met a lot of great people, and had to make about 400 bars a week.”
Melissa has broadened the product line to include goat-milk lotion, shampoo bars and other bath products, all homemade with natural ingredients. She also started a website, MasonJarFarm.com, where she sells the bath products along with toys and needlework made by the family. She says her best customer is still Allan, an information technology manager at an Irving marketing firm, who helps her make soap and always packs some when he travels for business.
A growing business required more goats to provide the raw materials, and the Awtreys now own about 40. They also have chickens, pigs, turkeys, ducks, donkeys, a potbellied pig and a Belgian draft horse named Jones.
“The goats are my favorite animal on our farm,” Melissa says. “Currently, we milk 12 goats every day by hand.”
The family also has grown, and now includes six children from toddler age to the teens. To be closer to them, Melissa’s mother started looking for her own farm in the area a few years ago. Although a 1926 farmhouse for sale nearby was too big for her, it was perfect for the Awtreys, who bought it in 2012 with Lone Star’s help.
“It was the house that I described to Allan 20 years ago when we were married,” Melissa says.
They marked another milestone in the fall of 2015 when they purchased hay equipment with a friend, which will help them keep up with their hay supply and costs. Once again, they returned to Lone Star Ag Credit for financing.
Now that they own 81 acres, there’s plenty of space for a swing set, but the Awtrey children aren’t interested, Melissa says. Instead they play in the wide-open spaces, learn how to ride a horse or drive a tractor, work in the garden and help raise the goats — especially in the spring, when they bottle-feed about 25 kids.
“I would not change anything about what we have done,” Melissa says. “Moving out here was the best decision for our family, and Lone Star has been with us since Day One.”