Hannah Thompson and her husband left the Atlanta city life behind for a charming Victorian house and a farm in Jackson, Georgia. Their journey led them to create Gold Lion Farm, producing organic bath and body care products with locally sourced ingredients. Listen as Hannah shares the story of how a gold man's ring sparked their connection to the land, and how her curiosity about ingredients led her to develop a business based on natural soaps and scrubs. You'll also hear about the other Georgia farms Gold Lion partners with to create their unique products and the importance they place on using organic ingredients and avoiding harmful chemicals.

This episode is full of inspiration for those seeking a simpler, more connected life, and a reminder of the quality and care you can find in small-batch, local products. Plus, you'll meet the star of the farm: Poppy the Pig. 

Gold Lion Farm

Hannah and Cameron Thompson of Gold Lion Farm

Credit: GoldLionFarm.com


Hannah Thompson: So it's really interesting story for us because we are city folks. We left the city of Atlanta about four years ago and decided to move to the country.

David Zelski: Moving from a bustling city to the quiet countryside is the dream for many people. They make movies about it: Funny Farm; Beetlejuice; just about every movie on the Hallmark Channel. For Hannah Thompson and her husband Cameron, moving from the big city of Atlanta and out to the country to live and work on a farm is not a Hollywood fantasy. It's their reality.

Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.

David Zelski: I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast presented by Georgia Grown and the fine folks at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Each episode, we feature stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who help provide Georgia-grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today, we are 46 miles southeast of Atlanta in the city of Jackson, Ga. And if you're a fan of Stranger Things, you'll recognize Jackson as the fictional town of Hawkins, Ind. But our visit today has nothing to do with the Upside Down. Instead, we're here to talk about organic bath and body care, plants that reseed themselves, and we're going to start with one mischievous pot-bellied pig named Poppy.

Hannah Thompson: So we take some tomato seeds. We grow 42 exotic-looking tomato plants. Thrilled. And then bam! Poppy's decided that she's going to clear cut the entire thing. She doesn't know how to stop. It's kind of like that Lay's potato chip, slogan. You know, once you pop, you can't stop. She can't stop when she gets going on a plant. So she has in one sitting, eaten 42 tomato plants. Another sitting, we brought some Irish potatoes. Excuse me: from an Irish trip that we had about 3 or 4 years ago. We did smuggle them in, and it was two potatoes. I didn't mention it to my husband, because if I did, he never would have let me. But we planted those. And then the next year, that turned into 20 potatoes, next year that turned into a hundred. And so we planted that is our potato crop. She ate the entire — and I can still remember Cameron digging through the ground saying, there's just got to be one potato left. But there wasn't. She was very thorough.

David Zelski: There's so much to unpack there. But while Poppy the pig is a rabble rouser on the farm, she has won the hearts of the town.

Hannah Thompson: So, so Poppy is, a what's called a pot-bellied pig. She's about 6 months old now. She's at her full size. And, as they say, pigs are hungry as hippos. She's loving to kiss the camera. She really, really likes being the center of attention. And certainly the ham. You know, all the puns you've ever heard: Pig-headed. She's a ham.

David Zelski: She's a ham. She's a pig.

Hannah Thompson: She's a pig. These are all real. You know, they're they're certainly rooted in truth. She's got a huge personality and, frankly, extremely intelligent. She won't hurt you. She, she won't hurt you at all. She's has these jowls. She's very playful. So we're gonna — you want to go and pick some flow-? Wanna go pick some flowers? That — Oh. OK, love. Oh, no, nope —

(Poppy oinks)

Hannah Thompson: Not gonna do that. But, um, so she, she has, um, has become famous in town, which is slightly mortifying and also very funny because she, um, escapes a lot. So the local police department, bless them, has asked me to keep treats in the mailbox. And every time she will sort of, I don't know, get a, get a hankering for some acorns in my neighbor's yard. She'll just take off. And we find ourselves getting a phone call from somebody, you know, two or three police cars or in the front yard. They've captured her. They've brought her back to the house. And so we always have cookies and treats in our mailbox for any neighbor, particularly the police department. So Jackson Police Department, our angels, they, they, they laugh about it. They have a great sense of humor about it. And it makes you feel kind of like you're in Mayberry a little bit because, you know, they have never given us a hard time or been stressed. It's — it's very amusing. She does live in our house. So people that we meet, our customers that we meet have heard about Poppy sometimes long before they've ever met me or heard about our company.

David Zelski: Aren't small towns great? Just imagine the local police. The 10-14 is actually a 10-54 at the corner of Holley and Third. Seems Poppy is 10-98 again. Please 10-26. 10-4. Will 10-26 and 10-59 back to Gold Lion. So does Poppy have a purpose here other than cuteness?

Hannah Thompson: Oh my goodness, that's such a good question. So — so, we have a lovely church. An original church built for Jackson. It's — it's roughly 175 years old. And they thought the day we got Poppy, and I was telling you about her escape plan. She particularly loves escaping at 11 a.m. on Sunday, right as church is kicking off. And so she'll escape to their parking lot and do her social thing. But they thought we were raising her to eat her. So it was, uh, they were — they're vegetarians. So we had this wonderful conversation last week where they said, "oh, you know, we just want to talk to you about Poppy, and are you going to eat her?" And how, you know, how can you do that and stuff? We had to explain. There's a beautiful butterfly here. We had to explain that. "No. Poppy is a 15-year commitment for us." She is our lovely pet. We are charmed by her. And. And also, I will say for us, it has given us more of a farming foundation. You know, to see the creatures interact and to wake up at 6 a.m. and to feed, you know, the pig and the chickens and kind of be outside and listen to the farm sounds within. It's just a very quiet town. So, you know, you really get a sense of, of, sort of purpose in the morning and a sort of relaxing, albeit I think they are hungry at that hour, but it's a relaxing and sort of gets to they start in a really special way for us.

David Zelski: There it is. Poppy's main role in the Gold Lion Farms universe is to help Hannah and Cameron feel more connected to farm life.

Hannah Thompson: She she may lay over for as she seems like she wanted to get a little belly rub. There we go. Yeah, a nice little belly rub in the afternoon. It's almost pool time, isn't it, Pops? But yeah, she is — She is very, very sweet. She has her little language, so it's nice because she is so smart that we're able to really understand. So she'll, you know, tell us when she's hungry or when she needs to go outside, when she's cranky. You know, she gets her feelings hurt. She's smart and sensitive. So she has her feelings hurt. You'll know. See this little smile? Wanna show them how you like to smile. Look at that. What a happy pig. What a happy piggy.

David Zelski: Now that Poppy has us in the farming frame of mind, let's go back.

Hannah Thompson: All right. So yeah. My name is Hannah Thompson, and at Gold Lion Farm, it was a really interesting story for us. Excuse me. So it's a really interesting story for us because we are city folks. We left the city of Atlanta about four years ago and decided to move to the country. And to choose this house was a really interesting process. It's an old Victorian, you know, built in the middle of the 1800s, and it has lots of charm and character, but it's just a tiny little town. So we, we ended up here and as I was mentioning, we kind of moved here in the summertime and having a real desire to be back in the garden, the first thing we did was get out here with our — we hadn't even unpacked our boxes, to be honest — we were out here, we wanted to plant some plants. So Cameron takes the shovel and the first scoop of soil — and I find this magical — the first scoop of soil came out with a gold man's ring, an actual lion ring. And I have found many things over the years in gardens that I've planted. But never gold and never anything so remarkable. So we — we found this man's ring, and we just began to imagine all kinds of stories, you know, in this new house. And did someone have a fight or how —or how did, how did it happen when this ring got out here? And for a couple of years, you know, we kept in a special place in our house for a couple of years. We've always thought about having this farm. In May of 2020, like so many millions of Americans, I was furloughed from my job as a a product manager. I worked for a company up in New Jersey, specialty foods, imported foods. The — the massive hit on food service really impacted my position. And so I took that time, that moment of, of not having a 15-hour work day and did something different. And I was curious, as all product managers, all people, you know, I'm using this product every day. It was my body wash and I decided to make a spreadsheet. I decided to understand the ingredients in the spreadsheet, just out of curiosity, just have — having time and curiosity. And when I built the spreadsheet, I — took me about a day and a half to research each ingredient, to kind of understand the components and why they exist in the body wash. And once I did that, I walked away with a huge concern about what I was putting on my skin. And I have fairly, you know, fair skin, sensitive skin. But I hadn't — I didn't have a great understanding of what was in those products. And so I, you know, raising chickens here, having a wonderful chicken named Pearl, thought it would be a good idea to make a batch of soap. An old-fashioned batch of soap. I didn't have any experience, you know, prior to May 2020 when I was furloughed, I didn't have any experience in natural soaps. So this was going to be something new. And I took an egg and I took some simple ingredients, some sunflower oil from a farm in South Georgia. And I made my first soap and I gave it away as gifts. I use it for my family. We all immediately noticed how gentle it was, and I was really encouraged to — to sell it, from my friends and from my family, my neighbors. They thought it was really a good product. And so I got started and right at the beginning of the pandemic with my — with my own business. We called the Gold Lion Farm because we were charmed by the gold lion ring that we'd found years earlier and realized that it really was, sort of our, our, our path where we were meant to be and to slow down. So with having our own business and understanding ingredients greatly, we source our ingredients from local farms. So our peach soap, as an example, you know, Al Pearson, and Pearson's peaches, there's a lot of personality. They have the greatest selection of peaches. You know, I mean, just dozens of varieties. I love going there, but we use Pearson's peaches, fresh peaches, in our peach soap. We top that with the calendula that we grow here and and our flowers. And we kind of have learned how to approach other farms, you know, how to experiment and how to keep ingredients extremely simple. I think for us, simplicity is key. And it turns out you don't need a lot of complicated ingredients in your products to make a product that works and is safe for your skin.

David Zelski: Gold Lion Farms is truly a post-pandemic success story. When Hannah lost her job, she could have given up, but instead they moved out of the city, let curiosity take over, and followed that curiosity to a unique farm and business.

Hannah Thompson: And — and that richness, you know, the richness from the eggs that what goes into the soap, all of the beautiful aspects of natural soap is, for us to create something super gentle for the skin, but to fight free radicals. So we use farming partners, that specialized in real, real quality ingredients. For example, Oliver Farms, we get our sunflower oil from them. Very, very high in vitamin E, and vitamin E is exactly some of the nutrients that we need to fight free radicals, naturally. So, we choose our ingredients very carefully and we love — our chicken is a great example. We love our chicken and the ability to take something that she was able to offer us and create a soap product with it.

David Zelski: Now, Hannah mentioned Gold Lion's farming partners, many of which you'll recognize from here on A Fork in the Road. But before we get to them, let's look at some of the bath and body care ingredients that Hannah is growing herself.

Hannah Thompson: Yeah. So our, our passion — and our flowers were kind of interesting. I was raised, with two grandmothers who loved the outdoors and loved gardening as much as I do. And so one of their — one of my grandmothers, her name was Maggie. Her favorite flower was the zinnia. And when you see zinnias in the catalog, there's just a multitude of styles, colors, you know, varieties. Zinnias seem precious to me. So we grew zinnias for her when she was alive. She did pass way about a year and a half — you know, but we grew them for her so that we could take these great big, huge bouquets to her. And it turned out through just having that habit and — and doing that for her, that we also fell in love with zinnias. So it turned, you know, if you don't know a lot about flowers, zinnia is a very easy flower to grow. It particularly likes this type of climate here in Georgia. So we plant our seeds as early — Just kind of depends on the year, but we plant our seeds as early as March and April. Everything we grow is from seed, and usually we'll have our zinnias popping within 60, 70 days of planting. And so we get a nice real early crop. Right now I have about 10 different varieties that I grow. Queen limes, just all types of apricot shades, yellows and and then just a multicolor mix. Zinnias are edible. And we do have one restaurant in Atlanta that actually uses our zinnia petals for, like, garnishing foods. So they're edible. We have gomphrena that's also edible. There's a very, like, hip fermentation lab opening in Virginia Highlands. That is, there is a Michelin restaurant that came down from New York, and so they're purchasing a lot of our flowers and herbs and things to incorporate into some of their fermentations and things that they're making. So it's giving us a chance to experiment and to, you know, have the flowers to sell at markets. We sell in a few stores in Jackson. We sell in Atlanta. Virginia Highlands market, various stores around Decatur. And we really like it. People appreciate the fact that we have very colorful flowers. They're what we call market flowers. They're seasonal. They don't last, you know, forever. So when we have, like, our season for zinnias is about to expire, we'll have celosia, sunflowers, more fall flowers for, you know, in the next couple of months. So it's nice that we have that variety. And you'll see this in a lot of our bath products and also our flower bouquets. We do this for weddings. A lot of like, wedding bouquets. And this is called celosia. And celosia has a very tiny seed similar to the size of the tobacco. So we did not plant any. We never do plant our celosia. We let it just reseed itself for next year. And this is all naturally reseeded, from year to year, which is pretty extraordinary. But when you see these tiny little micro seeds that will come off, they'll go into the ground and then, you know, they'll reseed themselves for next year. What's neat about this, and this is why brides are particularly fond of these types of flowers. This is called a cocks comb celosia. And you'll notice that some of them carry this, like, wonderful, wonderful shape. It's very coral. It's very, almost tropical-looking. So the flowers are extremely important. And and I'm so comfortable in using our flowers because they're organic. We don't use any pesticides. We don't use any herbicides. We don't put anything on them. We let Mother Nature kind of dictate, you know, based on the soil — which we do work a lot on our soil quality. But I would say that for me, the most important part about having access to these flowers for our products is to dry them, with the most integrity, you know, in terms of the temperature and keeping this wonderful, medicinal benefits that they can bring and then applying them to both our bath salt collection — so we have a really unique bath salt collection with our, dried, organic herbs and flowers. And we do the same thing with our bath bombs. And actually, since launching the bath bombs, a couple of months ago, those have been our best sellers. People really like them. We, as most people have started to gather, we're very serious about the ingredients that we put in our products. And so after doing a lot of research on your typical bath bomb that you could find at your local store, we realized that not just the kit, not just the colors, the colors, you know, have to drain out of the bath tub. That requires an emulsifier, almost solvent, to pull those chemicals away from your bath tub and down the drain. That particular chemical is a carcinogen. It's related to some pretty serious carcinogens. There's certainly a way you can have it as a carcinogen-free product, but there's not enough traceability in the market for me to feel too comfortable with finding the right supplier for that. So our bath bombs are color-free. We don't put anything but essential oils, just very natural ingredients. And then our powerful little dried flowers on top. And those have been a really a wonderful seller for almost a way to open the door to start talking to people about natural bath and body care.

David Zelski: Last thing for right now: Why is it? It sounds like you put so much care and detail and love into this. Why is that so important for this product?

Hannah Thompson: Oh, that's such a good question. So as a former product manager, you know, I have seen — I can honestly see on the back end and in sourcing products and being a brand developer, you know, we have all of the choices are up to us. So I could make an inexpensive, commodity-type product. I could make a very high-quality product. But everything is is my decision ultimately. And when I look at some of the health crises that my friends and family have gone through, very close people in my life, some of the health issues that I've had and my husband have experienced, one thing that has become almost pervasive is we need to know what's in our food. You know, we need to have the purest, cleanest ingredients in our food and what we put on our bodies. You know, we like to use the term, you know, our body is a temple, but really, our — our skin is our largest organ and it happens to be very, very powerful and has the ability to absorb all kinds of stuff, both good and bad. So for me, when I had the opportunity to start from the ground and evaluate, you know, what does the skin need? What does our body need? And then choose those ingredients all while staying in the state of Georgia? It was a no-brainer, really. I mean, just that's how it had to be.

David Zelski: I just love how carefully crafted Hannah's products are. I know that's not an uncommon sentiment here on the podcast, but it's still refreshing each time I hear a farmer, maker, baker or whatever tell me how much time, care, and precision are put into their products. Now, you can order any of these products online at GoldLionFarm.com but if you find yourself in Jackson, maybe on one of those Stranger Things tours, stop by the storefront on Mulberry Street. This is where we can learn more about Gold Lion's collaboration with other local farms.

Hannah Thompson: So, a little bit about the farms that we work with. You know, they are the foundation of our program our bath — our Georgia Grown Bath and Body Program. We're really, really, really proud to partner with these folks. So for land and milk and — excuse me, land of milk and honey soap. This is Mary Rigdon. She has about 100 goats. This is a saying in variety, really great milkers on 40 pastures in East Atlanta. So wonderful. She supplies cheese. She's actually a fantastic cheesemaker herself. So they do a farmstead cheese that they supply restaurants and hotels in Atlanta, and then she supplies people like me, soap makers, with the milk to make a goat milk soap. And her goat milk goes into our land of milk and honey soap. Then we have, Armond, who — it's a wonderful family of beekeepers. He incorporates his children into the operation. So they are learning quite a lot in the apiary. But he keeps a variety of different bees and he's wonderful at educating folks. Often you'll find him bringing a hive or two to a local farmer's market that he's at. Just educate people on bee behavior. Try to get people more comfortable about being around bees. And we use his honey so he's less than 30 miles from here. We use his honey at Noble Honey, for our land of milk and honey soaps. This is Red Oak Lavender; they're up in Dahlonega. They've got a few acres of lavender fields. Extremely popular in the spring and summer for the bloom. But we take their lavender, dry it, and put it in our lavender milk and honey soap. You can see that already, the diversity, you know, farmers within the state just to make one product. The next is Weaver farms, Weaver Berryland farms. They're actually here in Jackson, and it's, it's another family-owned farm. They do, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, and they're a pesticide-, herbicide-free farm. And we use their fresh blueberries in our blueberry soap. So, for — so for summer, we do a peach — a Pearson's peach soap and a blueberry soap. And that's a lot of fun. People always really enjoy picking that up in the summertime. Al Pearson up here at the top, he is at Pearson's Farm. If you don't know, Al Pearson is in the Guinness World Book of Records for growing the largest peach that was ever grown. It was over a pound. It's a super huge peach. Very impressive guy. And wonderful peaches. We incorporate his fresh peaches into our peach soap. But the founding farm — the farm that we could do nothing, all of our line has sunflower oil from Oliver Farms. We could do nothing without the Olivers. A truly magical family. They have, beautiful sunflower fields, and we use their artisan oil in every single one of our products. So it's really critical for me that we understand their operation. I've had the chance to get down there. They have a beautiful boutique they sell our soaps at, and, we — it's just a fabulous partnership. Really, really impressed with everything that they do.

David Zelski: I'm impressed too, with all of it. Gold Lion Farm's bath and body care products are the culmination of families and farms across the state working together to create products just for you. Now this is where the podcast episode usually starts to wrap up. However, there are a couple things that happened during my trip to Gold Lion Farm that I want to share with you. But as we're putting together this episode, they didn't really fit. So all I can really do is just kind of tack them on. Trust me, it's worth it.

Hannah Thompson: Where were we just talking about brandys and stuff like.

David Zelski: Yeah. Yeah. To just the — to the whole tobacco thing.

Hannah Thompson: Yeah. So about 10 years ago, I built my first, still, I made a homemade still.

David Zelski: See, I knew you'd want to hear this.

Hannah Thompson: I was again, curious. I think a lot of what I do is just a simple curiosity: How are these things made? And I went up to North Georgia to get some apples. It's a tradition for lots of folks in Georgia to take that time to go visit the beautiful apple orchards. And so that's what we do. And we take those apples, we make them mash, we ferment them and then we still them. So my first still was a little tiny coffee maker that I put some copper wire on and some duct tape. The poor thing worked for about five years. And at some point I decided to make an investment in a — in a more standard still. So we complement, our fall brandy making — which is kind of a hit with our friends, has been for about 10 years now — with growing our own tobacco. So this is a Virginia variety. We have, I would say, about six to seven. These have all reseeded themselves. So as you can see, got wonderful little pods here. These are all the seeds are and there are hundreds and hundreds of seeds in each one of these pods. I'll see if I can open one here. One that's kind of dry. But you can see here that there are hundreds and hundreds of these seeds that will then just populate the backyard. You see all of those? So they will just grow and grow and grow. So all of these have been volunteers, if you will. These plants seeded themselves. They grew this year. Each variety of tobacco — so the ones that stand out here, most of these are Virginia varieties. So each variety of tobacco has very unique flavor qualities. Also the burn rates, the fermentation; we, just like a good tobacco farmer, we will cut the leaves down as they start to turn, which will be in about a month and a half from now. we'll hang them across the dining room, you know, which would, like, replicate a barn until they're dried and — and then they go into a curing process. And so about end of October, November — when we've got a little leftover brandy from brandy making — is the time when people come over, have a cigarette. You know, these are all organic. So we have an organic cigarette and a glass of brandy, and play some pool or some cards. Something like that.

David Zelski: Brandy and organic cigarettes? That just makes Hannah even more likable. Want more stories like this one? Well, you can watch A Fork in the Road on GPB-TV or any time on the GPB.org websiteGPB.org/Podcasts is where you can listen to and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform.

I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.


A Fork in the Road airs Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on GPB-TV. Check your local listings for other replays throughout the week and watch all episodes anytime at GPB.org/ForkintheRoad.  Please download and subscribe to the Fork in the Road podcast at GPB.org/ForkintheRoadpodcast or on your favorite podcast platform as well.

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