LESLIEVILLE — A local farmer provides the goats milk, there’s lye in the hardware store and the base oils, minerals and essential oils come from a variety of suppliers.
On most Mondays, retired school teacher Vicky Bartagnolli can be found wearing long rubber gloves and a white lab coat, standing at her kitchen sink, mixing lye and water to make the soaps that she feels have saved her youngest son’s skin.
Ben, now a teenager, had very tender skin as a toddler. He was getting dry circles on his skin and he was always itching and scratching, says Bartagnolli.
Living in Edmonton at the time, she knew a woman who had a solution — homemade soap, free of detergents and harsh chemicals.
The woman was able to help Bartagnolli track down the ingredients she would need, but was not in a position to teach her craft.
That was something Bartagnolli would have to learn on her own.
And learn she did.
She learned that a solution of lye and water gets very hot, very fast, and stays hot until all of the lye has neutralized.
She learned that small bits of lye left on the floor would burn the bottoms of her children’s feet.
She learned that small bits of lye on the sleeve of her lab coat could burn her face.
When an old truck backfired in her yard, she learned that her neighbours were mighty worried about the steamy concoctions they had seen her stirring on her back deck.
“They thought I had blown something up,” Bartagnolli says from the kitchen counter where she has laid out the wooden moulds in which she forms her soaps.
Lye, water and goatmilk are the basic ingredients for the soaps that Bartagnolli now makes in batches of 72 for sale from her back door and in a growing number of local farmer’s markets.
The goat milk comes from a friend nearby, who had put together a herd of nannies because her daughter is allergic to cow’s milk. The goats are surprisingly prolific and their milk does not contain the allergens that cows produce, says Bartagnolli.
She believes the growing interest in homemade soap comes from people who want to get away from the harsh detergents in their favourite soap brands and use something that will leave their skin healthy and clean.
Various essential oils added to the soaps offer additional benefits, depending on which oils are used. Patchouli, for example, is believed to offer antidepressant effects with its warm, earthy aroma.
Customers have attested to the affects on their own skin and share Bertagnolli’s claim that using goatmilk soap has kept their teenagers free of the most dreaded disease of their youth — acne.
Ben has remained acne free at an age where many others are doing daily battle with zits, says Bartagnolli.
She has now expanded her product line to include skin creams and she also makes dog soaps out of the leftovers from each batch, selling them alongside the dog treats that she takes with her to the farmer’s markets, including Rimbey, Bentley and Innisfail.
Now that she has learned to manage the power of lye, Bartagnolli says she is thinking about increasing production so she can attend more markets and perhaps set up shop in a small cabin that used to belong to her father.
Sipping Earl Grey tea from an Old Country Roses teacup, Bartganolli says she’s making a good income and having fun in the process.