Nancy Butler: Lyric Hill Farm’s many talented artisan

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Nancy Butler, braiding some grass while being interviewed.

Anyone who knows Granby resident Nancy Butler as a multi-talented artisan and goat whisperer would probably be amazed to know that, although having an artistic bent from childhood, her college degree was in geology with a minor in civil and environmental engineering and that her first career was as a paralegal!

Raised in the farming community of Bethel, New York, she left home for Cornell University where she earned those degrees. Before beginning a job search, she visited a friend in Bloomfield. She liked the area and her friend’s mother got her a job in The Travelers’ start-up mutual fund department.

At the Travelers, Butler met Lois Neumann, the niece of Lois Allen Longley, of Allen’s Cider Mill here in town. Longley and Butler became friends with both Loises and occasionally helped out at the Cider Mill. Don Butler also knew Lois Neumann and on a visit to North Granby in 1987, he and Nancy became acquainted. Since they ended up married, you know they hit it off, but the beginning of their relationship was a bit challenging as Don had a job in Chicago. Their long-distance romance flourished and he transferred here in the late 80s, working at a series of consulting and insurance-related corporations.

Nancy left Traveler’s a year after the couple’s first child Mollie was born. The job had involved a lot of travel, keeping her away from home. A Master Gardening class at the University of Connecticut got her thinking how she could put her lifetime love of plants to good use. She quickly found two opportunities.

At White Flower Farm in Litchfield, she scored a one-day-a-week job as a garden advisor, and at Westmoor Park in West Hartford, she became the resident horticulturist, designing gardens, writing the newsletter, and teaching classes in various crafts such as wreath-making with natural materials. The best part was that she could bring her growing family to work with her.

A change in workplace occurred when her youngest needed to attend pre-school. St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford had a pre-school and also needed a secretary to the president. Nancy applied for the job, and for one year, was back in an office.

Don’s creative side eventually won out over the insurance industry and he purchased Minuteman Furniture Restoration on Hungary Road in the fall of 2004. The next year, the couple left their West Hartford home for rural Granby. By then, they were a family of five: Mollie, Austin and Ethan were 11, 8 and 3 at the time.

As a youngster, Nancy had enjoyed the sewing, knitting and embroidery crafts, as well as making botanical prints and baking berry pies. One would think that once unemployed and at home in Granby, she now had plenty of time to indulge in these artistic activities, but what’s a farm without ponies? Shortly after getting two of those, chickens and goats (primarily for son Austin) were added to the mix. With the addition of a large vegetable garden, Nancy found herself back in the farming way of life of her childhood.

Guard goats checking out some visitors at Lyric Hill Farm. Photos by Shirley Murtha

When 6th grader Austin announced “I’m just not that into goats anymore,” Nancy found herself too attached to the little characters to give them away and decided to find a way to have them earn their keep. At first, it was making goat cheese, but other farms in Granby were doing that. Nancy’s second choice was soap, and that has become Lyric Hill Farm’s most famous product. In the early days, Nancy gives credit to Nancy Ross of the Dutch Iris Inn for having the soap in the inn, selling it, and directing customers to the Hungary Road address. Granby’s Japanese B&B, O Gawa Shou, uses Nancy’s soap, supplying her with Yuzu essential oil that they bring back from their visits to Japan to include in the product. Nancy also makes tiny tins of body butter for them to give to guests.

Serendipity came into play when husband Don gave his friend Jim Larwood some of Nancy’s soap. When Jim and his wife later opened the Laundry Works on Mill Pond Road, they remembered the soap and really liked the fact that it was made of all natural ingredients and no harsh chemicals. “Do you make detergent?” they asked Nancy. When her reply was “No,” they answered “Well, you should!” Their interest in a natural eco-friendly product got Nancy investigating what detergents contained.

A study done by the University of Washington showed that air fresheners and detergents contain toxic products including formaldehyde and acetone. That was definitely contrary to what Nancy wanted. She studied many detergent recipes, looking for components that satisfied her requirements.

In addition to cleaning, she required low suds, softening, and rinsing clean without leaving a residue. It sometimes takes new users a while to realize that the instructions are true: one of the little included scoops is strong enough for an entire load of dirty jeans and delicate enough for lacy unmentionables. The detergent comes in unscented or lavender varieties. The lavender gets its scent from lavender essential oil. All of the ingredients and packaging are made in the USA and are recyclable and compostable.

The Lyric Hill Farm shop on Hungary Road.

Through her many appearances in local and not-so-local craft shows and farmers markets, Nancy has become a bit of a celebrity. Articles about Lyric Hill Farm have appeared in Connecticut Magazine, Hartford Magazine, Seasons and Connecticut Food and Farm. Nancy and the goats were also the subject of a Channel 8 news program describing how the goats appreciate the donations of used Christmas trees. Yes, goats eat them.

Don takes time from his furniture restoration chores to take care of the chickens, but the rest of the horse, goat and cat care is handled by Nancy. In her spare time, she tends the garden, makes the soap (with its delightful felted wool coverings), the detergent and the lavender wands to scent closets and drawers. She conducts classes in how to make the wands and soap, and also how to bake perfect pies. Her beautiful intricate pie crusts are amazing to behold.

In addition to visiting the little shop on the farm on Hungary Road, Nancy’s products can be purchased here in town at Holcomb Farm, Simsbury Pharmacy, Mondazzi Book and Bead in Windsor, the Granville Country Store and the seasonal farmers markets at Lost Acres Vineyard.

Butler teaching a class in pie crust decoration.