Bari Sholk finds her calling on farms across America.
At Bari Sholk’s home in Longwood, there is a photograph in the family room that is as close to a crystal ball as it gets. The adorable picture is of a three-year-old Bari squealing with delight as a curious goat pokes its head through the fence at a local petting farm.
Bari, now 21, still gets that same look of excitement on her face whenever she interacts with goats. And these days, that’s pretty much all the time. It’s because Bari works as an intern at Paradox Farm Creamery, a dairy goat farm in North Carolina, her latest stop on a goat-farming tour around the country.
“I’ve always loved animals and working around them,” Bari says. “I love the feeling I get when I’m around animals – secure, positive, and self-confident.”
On the farm, the hardworking Bari rises at 6:15 a.m. and does everything from milking the does to helping birth and bottle-feed the kids (goat kids, not human kids, just to be clear). Her tasks also include giving educational tours, making a variety of delectable cheeses from goat’s milk, and selling the cheeses at farm events and farmers markets.
“It quickly became clear that this was a great place for me,” says Bari, who has been affiliated with Paradox Farm for more than a year. “The people have been awesome. And, I’ve really been able to become a part of the business. The owner has taught me basically every aspect of it.”
Bari grew up in Seminole County, graduated from Lake Mary High School in 2015, and earned a degree in small-business management from Seminole State College in 2017.
As a child, Bari loved nothing more than being outside, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the creatures who reside there.
“A neighborhood friend and I adored the outdoors,” she says. “We’d watch Animal Planet and National Geographic, and then we’d go out and pretend to be [legendary Australian zookeeper and TV personality] Steve Irwin.”
Bari’s affinity for animals has included dogs, fish, lizards, turtles, frogs, toads – and even worms. After rainstorms, she’d scoop worms from the family pool to save them from drowning.
Her parents, Bill and Lisa, aren’t surprised by Bari’s transition from an animal-crazy kid to a farm intern with a deep connection to her four-legged charges.
“At an early age, she showed such compassion and caring for all animals and always wanted to learn as much as she could about them,” Bill says. “Visiting her on the farms where she has worked gives me such great joy because Bari is doing what she has been passionate about since she was three years old.”
Lisa says the farming experiences have added meaning and purpose to her daughter’s life.
“I see in her a dedication that I’ve never seen in anything she’s done before,” Lisa says. “It has matured her.”
Originally, Bari was planning to pursue a career in early childhood education. She worked with Lake Mary High’s Little Rams preschool program and was a teacher’s assistant and then a teacher at her synagogue, Congregation Ohev Shalom.
“She loves little kids and goat kids,” her mom quips.
However, Bari’s career path changed during the summer of 2015. She was searching for something productive to do with her time before fall classes began at Seminole State, which led her to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, known as WWOOF. WWOOF’s mission is to link would-be farmers with organic farms, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community that is conscious of ecological farming practices. Program participants, called WWOOFers, work on host farms in exchange for room, board, and real-world education. They don’t receive monetary compensation.
Intrigued, Bari signed on to intern at Left Foot Farm, a dairy goat farm in Washington State. Her older brother, Jared, was living in Washington at the time, which was an added draw.
“Going there for that summer and learning so much by just doing it by hand was incredible,” says Bari, who strongly prefers hands-on learning to a standard classroom environment. “I discovered I really love this mix of dairy and running a small business and doing marketing.”
Bari liked the experience so much, she returned to Left Foot Farm the following summer.
During college, Bari also worked at a dairy goat farm in Central Florida. In lieu of payment, the owner gave her a doe and one of the goat’s kids. Bari dubbed the duo Gypsy Rose Lee and Barbra Streisand, a.k.a. Lee Lee and Babs, and brought them with her to Paradox Farm.
“They are beautiful, stunning, show-quality goats, and they know it,” Bari says.
Paradox Farm Creamery has a herd of about 50 goats that live the good life – which shows in one very obvious way.
“Everyone always asks, ‘Are those goats pregnant?’” Bari says, to which she good-naturedly retorts, “No, they’re well-fed! They’re fat and happy. All our goats are spoiled rotten divas.”
Sue Stovall, who owns Paradox Farm, says Bari’s prior experiences working with goats was a bonus.
“She was immediately able to jump in,” says Sue, who speaks highly of Bari’s work ethic and positive attitude. “Extra hands, especially experienced hands, are priceless during kidding season. Bari also has a knack for selling and loves to go to our markets and events.”
Sue says she and her elderly mother have formed a close bond with Bari.
“She has become a member of my family,” says Sue, who misses Bari when she goes home to Florida to visit. “The house feels a little empty when she is gone.”
Bari is enjoying her second season of work with Sue but isn’t sure what the future holds for her. When she finishes her stint at Paradox Farm, Bari will likely move on to another of WWOOF’s host farms.
“My true win-the-lottery goal would be to have my own farm,” she says. “It would be a working dairy, but it would also be an educational farm for students.”
However, Bari can also picture herself in other settings, such as working at a zoo or animal sanctuary or even training seeing-eye dogs.
“I just know I need to be around animals,” Bari says. “That is my happy place.”
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