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Local food tour gets visitor's goat

artien Kusters will tell you, goats are a sensitive lot. With 160 relaxing in his spacious barn on London Line, you'd never know it as they recline in a bed of straw, play together and nibble at a bit of hay. "They're very emotional animals," he said. "You have to keep them happy and healthy." But that's part of the joy of working with them said the 21-year-old operator of Kusters' Dairy Goat Farm. In fact, he was so interested in farming them, he volunteered to work on at a neighbouring goat operation several years ago, just to see what it was like.

"I called the farmer and asked if he needed any help and he told me he wasn't hiring," said the Ridgetown College graduate. "So I asked him if I could come to work for him for free. It turned out he enjoyed having me and I liked the work." So Kusters was happy to show off the fruits of his labours during Lambton's third annual Family Fun & Food Tour. The event shows people in Sarnia-Lambton the diverse mix of food produced locally.

"It's so important for people from Sarnia to know where their food comes from," he said. "A lot of people just think it comes from the grocery store." Kusters co-owns the farm with his parents Theo and Gredi and has help from his 20-year-old sister Eveliene running the operation. He's up at 6:15 a.m. every day milking. "If it's not Martien milking, if it's someone else, the goats know and they get upset," Eveliene said, laughing.

The operation has been a great success, and a big part of it has been Martien's passion for goat diary farming, Eveliene said. "As long as I can remember he always had a little pet goat," she said. "This is just the right fit." But because of the goats' sensitivity, it was a real challenge to open up the farm to the public for the tour. It took the family five days to clean and prepare for the crowds. To keep the goats protected from disease, visitors had to don plastic bag-like boots to take the tour.

"It just helps keep bacteria out of the barn," Martien said. "Goats aren't as hearty as diary cows, so when they get sick they just sort of give up." But Martien said the hard work was worth it. "It's really nice to share our experiences with (the visitors)," he said. Lambton Federation of Agriculture Kevin Forbes said getting people out to the eight tour stops, like Kusters' Dairy Farm, is a rare opportunity.

"I don't think people realize how much food is actually produced locally," he said. The tour also showcase a fishery, a fruit farm and a nursery to illustrate the diversity of Lambton's farming operations. "Even close to the city, we have all the diversity people are looking for," he said.