I've been wanting to write this blog for some time now. Somehow the year got away from me. My mom scanned and sent me several of these photos last week and I couldn't wait to put them in this blog post. The story behind Parkside Farm starts with a little girl and her dream. Summarized in the photo above, many years ago, a much younger and even shorter Nicole (Praniewicz) fell in love with the friendly and adorable pygmy goat breed. At around the age of 10, she was able to purchase her first pygmy goat named Daisy and bring her home and so began a 25 year journey to create Parkside Farm, today.
Give Me all the Animals
There was no denying it, if it had fur and four legs, I wanted to be around it. Horses, donkeys, cows, sheep and goats, oh my! I remember loving animals from my earliest memories. I wanted to be a veterinarian and absolutely loved playing doctor with my children's vet kit and stethoscope on all of my favorite stuffed animals. That dream quickly dissipated when I was in high school and heard the reality of how long I'd have to be in school to become a veterinarian. Patience has never been my strongest attribute and the thought of years of waiting and the financial investment just didn't appeal to me. However, in my early years, I spent as much time as possible around animals, they were just so interesting and soul soothing to me. I dreamed about working with and caring for animals, someday.
Goats and Growing Up
I was introduced to goats at a young age, we actually drank local goats milk growing up. I was so curious, as you can see me here checking out an adolescent Lamancha. You can see the puzzled look on my face, "where are its ears???" I have fond memories of family trips to John Ball Zoo (the petting zoo was a favorite) and trips to California where my mom would drop me off at an animal farm daycare. I would sit for hours outside with the animals and in their pens just watching them. The time would just fly by and all too soon, my mom would be back to take me to my grandparents home. I remember my mom taking me back to what was the animal farm daycare a few years ago, it was so nostalgic. It was run by a woman for so many years. I can only imagine the positive impact she made on probably thousands of children, just like me.
I believe the Lord will use our entire stories for His purposes should we just be obedient to Him. - Nicole Zaagman
Farming a Family Tradition
Though my parents didn't grow up on working farms, my dad's family tended to large vegetable gardens and fruit trees every year. Canning fruits and vegetables was done every year by my grandmother. His grandparents had a homestead and dairy up the road from his childhood home that had dairy cows and an old spring house that still trickles to this day. His aunt Marie had a small farm with sheep, rabbits, ducks and gardens. You can see me proudly feeding one of her older lambs a bottle in the photo above. She used the wool from the sheep to make adorable sheep figurines and filling for beautiful quilted bed comforters. My mom's grandfather and great grandfather worked on an orchard in California and my mom grew up with several horses.
Living in the Country
My parents wanted to give me and my 2 sisters the opportunity to live in a rural community. After living in the city of Grand Rapids we moved out to the country in Clarksville, MI and at that home I got my first three pygmy goats and had many bantam chickens along with large vegetable gardens. We canned a lot of food growing up, peaches, applesauce, green beans, dilly beans (my favorite), tomatoes and tomato sauce, corn and more. Here I am holding a basket of peas and a few tomatoes, standing in our very large vegetable garden with my trusty radio flyer wagon. At this house, I bartered horse chores for riding lessons and showing horses with the neighbor across the street. It was an amazing childhood.
4-H was My Thang
When I was a teenager, we moved to a parcel of 12 acres in Clarksville and my parents built a new home. We continued some gardening and had the majority of the acreage planted with alfalfa and it was harvested for cattle across the road and for my pygmy goats. It was at this house when I really got to explore my love of pygmy goats. As I got older, I began purchasing more pygmy goats and breeding them for show and for sale. At one time I counted how many animals I had over my high school career and I believe it was around 30. I worked hard to improve my goat’s confirmation and breed standard characteristics as I only owned one registered buck at the time.
I excelled in the local goat 4-H program, won countless ribbons, trophies and awards over the years and taught 3 pygmy goats to pull me in a 4-wheeled cart for parades and competitions. I showed horses, rabbits, goats and chickens in my time at the local youth fair. I competed and represented our fair at the State fair and even won the coveted Senior Showmanship Sweepstakes my last year (you show all 10 species of 4-H animals, horses, steer, dairy cows, sheep, goats, dogs, chickens, cavy, rabbits and pigs). 4-H was the foundation of my youth and taught me so many valuable lessons going in to adulthood and I know I wouldn't be who I am today without it. It's also how I met my husband, Ken!
The Big Family Move
In 2015, my parents announced they would be moving back to California for a job for my dad. It was very sudden once everything came through. My family home with all of its memories and animals was going to be no more. Unfortunately, I was not able to take my beloved pygmy goats with me; I fell into a depression the years following having everything I loved taken away from me. Both of my sisters also relocated to California. We were incredibly blessed that the new home homeowners opted to keep my pygmy goats and added horses to the property as well! They took such wonderful care of my pygmy goats and let me come back and visit them in the years after.
My youngest sister Shelli and I shared a special bond especially with the pygmy goats as I got her showing and breeding them as well. This photo was taken on one of our visits back to see them. They recognized us every time we came. Some of them were bottle babies and babies from my previous breedings. The brown one on the right of the photo was Shelli's prized and award winning wether, Rilee. He followed her everywhere and came when she called him. It was heartbreaking not being able to take them with me. I am so thankful they got to live out their days on our family farm enjoying lots of open spaces, love, blue skies and green pastures.
11 Long Years
In 2010, I moved to Byron Center after Ken and I got married. During the 11 long years I wasn't able to have pygmy goats at my new home; I tried desperately to stay connected with animals and people in some way. I had a Maltese dog named Nickel and I took him through the West Michigan Therapy Dog program. After testing in, going through weeks of classes, passing our exam and shadowing, we were placed at a local hospital for volunteering. We brought many smiles to patients and their families. Nickel sadly passed away at only 6 years old due to a rare blood platelet disorder. I was shattered. I poured myself into my entrepreneurship efforts to distract me from my sadness.
Shortly after that, with my art degree and career background, I started volunteering at the same hospital doing art therapy with Artists Creating Together with patients in lifelong stay situations. I learned so much and learned about the importance of kindness, empathy and compassion. My volunteering with them came to an end after 2 years and later I started volunteering with Equine Assisted Development, a local horse therapy center and was later contracted as their Marketing Strategist. All the while, I dreamed of having pygmy goats again.
I am so blessed and feel called to spread JOY with my pygmy goats and farm to families and children in my community and beyond. A dream come true! - Nicole Zaagman
A Dream Come True
In October 2021, my dream to own pygmy goats (again) came true! The photo above was taken the day my first 3 registered pygmy goats arrived at Parkside Farm. Dave transported them all the way from California to me in Michigan. In December, 2021 when I was praying about what the Lord would have me do in the New Year, it was impressed upon my heart to expand Parkside Farm for others. It was a pretty vague vision, one I couldn't even picture at the time, thankfully, otherwise I would have planned it out in my own way and not trusted the Lord to guide me and to put my faith in Him.
A month later, the opportunity to purchase the third property and second 100 year old farmhouse on the farm became available which expanded the farm operations to include maple syrup. Though I am only 2 years in to running Parkside Farm, it amazes me how my little dream has already turned in to so much more, including an expansion plan for the farm in 2024! I believe the Lord will use our entire stories for His purposes should we just be obedient to Him. I am so blessed and feel called to spread JOY with my pygmy goats and farm to families and children in my community and beyond. A dream come true!
Nicole Zaagman lives in Byron Center, Michigan with her high-school sweetheart and her four legged family members. Nicole is an accomplished, Christian entrepreneur and children's author, passionate about helping women succeed in life and business through coaching. She travels the state of Michigan visiting senior centers and special events with her pygmy goats through the Jump for JOY Program™ and operates Parkside Farm in Byron Center, Michigan. Nicole is an advocate and ally for agriculture and farm education and started the Farmilies Connect™ initiative to help connect farms and families in Michigan.