Essay contest that promised winner a goat farm yields no victor

ELKMONT, Ala. – Despite the hopes and intentions of its owners, an Alabama goat farm at the core of a nationwide contest sits in limbo.

It was a story that captured the headlines and imaginations of readers across the country earlier this year: For the price of a good essay and a $150 entry fee, you could be the owner of a successful goat dairy farm and several acres of land debt-free — an offer worth well over $350,000.

Participants who entered the Humble Heart Farms Goat Dairy & Creamery essay contest will be disappointed to learn there won’t be a winner. The northern Alabama farm’s owner, Paul Spell, said Friday not enough entries were received to officially declare a winner on Oct. 15.

The story even gained enough traction to be featured in Hearst Publications' Country Living magazine and on the U.K.-based Daily Mail, taking word of the Spells’ contest worldwide and leading people on social media sites to talk about the “what ifs” and share similar stories where property owners were handing off land or buildings for practically free.

There were specific requirements for the entries, but also rules for the contest organizers — the main one being the judges needed to receive at least 2,500 essays before declaring a winner. That didn’t happen.

“I’d thought for sure this would work,” Spell said Friday. “We didn’t get even close.”

Those that entered the contest by the Oct. 1 deadline will soon get a refund check, according to contest organizers. Spell didn’t say how many entries were actually received, but said there weren’t enough to even consider extending the deadline an additional month.

The entire reason for the contest was to get the farm off Spell’s hands and raise money for he and his wife, Leslie, to move to Costa Rica to help missionary friends with their goat dairy. They had tried selling the farm, but it wasn’t helping Spell find the right owner.

“We had (the farm) up for sale, but the ones who really want it don’t have the money, and the ones who have money ask about the return on investment,” he told The Athens (Alabama) News Courier last month. “They’re missing the whole point of what we’re doing. We’re profitable, but you’re not going to live like a king. It’s still a lot of fun.”

Spell said he isn’t exactly sure what his next move is, but it will still end up with the family going to Costa Rica. The farm, including the family's home, will either be placed back on the market at its full value or will come under the operation of a nonprofit organization.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

The Athens (Alabama) News Courier contributed details to this story.

Recommended for you