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MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS TO GROW HERBS
letters to Cognition
Organic gardeners seem to have an ongoing love affair with herbs. These aromatic plants offer so much while demanding so little of the gardener. Herbs tend to be much less fussy than most plants about the soil they grow in; many actually prefer a well-drained (read: dry) sandy or even gravelly soil to the compost-enriched beds prepared for heavy feeding vegetables and ornamentals. Pest control is rarely needed with herbs, which are more likely to repel bugs than attract them. ;
Because of this and an increasing demand for herbs, many COG members would like to grow herbs commercially. The prospect of marketing, however, seems to stop them dead in their tracks. COGNITION has asked organic growers from across Canada to share information about the herb businesses they have built up with successful marketing. The only limit to how you can market your herbs, it seems, is your own imagination!
LArmoire aux Herbes, inc.
375 rang des chutes
Ham Nord, Québec G0P 1A0
by Danièle Laberge
The healing herbs are most definitely the focus of lArmoire aux Herbes, our small biodynamic farm and processing plant. We raise hundreds of species and endless varieties on four acres of intensive care. We feed the microorganisms in the soil with excellent biodynamic compost and they, in turn, provide a balanced feast for the herbs, according to their specific nature. The compost is a mixture of herbs and manure from our Belgian draft horses who proudly share the work load. We are certified under Demeter, the brand name for biodynamic farm products.
As an herbalist, I find this farm is my dream come true. With many wonderful helpers, I grow herbs from seeds to seeds, pick them and propose many simple yet effective herbal products. I work closely with the 150 therapists, alternative health clinics and health food stores throughout Québec who distribute the results of our small-scale business. We invite them to the farm every summer so that they can get to know the herbs in their natural form. We also write to them each season and offer them monthly rebates on products, according to the seasonal needs.
Most of our energy goes to the land and bettering the growing conditions for the plants. We truly believe that an herbal product can never be better than the herbs that compose it. We have humble yet impeccable facilities for processing; all is done by hand with tender loving care. We even print and cut our own labels in the winter.
Our climate is very harsh; we live in a cold corridor. Thanks to the biodynamic preparations, we can intensify the process of photosynthesis and still mature herbs like lavender beautifully and fragrantly. But we tend to stay mainly with herbs such as the alpines which thrive in our challenging climate and develop a strong immunity and concentrated therapeutic value. In late spring, in our three small greenhouses, we start 15,000 herb seedlings. These are never set out before June 20.
Our work is threefold: growing, teaching and healing. From the herbs, we make mostly liquid fresh single-herb concentrates, over 90 different ones, and we extract them in a special apple cider vinegar, with different levels of acidity to accommodate the variations in water content of the plants. We have also have been offering over 36 different herbal composites, traditional herbalist formulas, but we are just now encountering certain labelling difficulties. It seems that our government recognizes only two categories of substances foods and drugs unlike the U.S. and in Europe, where natural health products constitute a third option. In Canada, natural foods may be the only field of expertise where you are summoned by law not to tell the truth about the products.
On the farm, we also make four different herbal ointments, soothing oils obtained by maceration, herbal clays, herbal teas, herb pillows, herbal tooth powder, herb insecticide, herbal seasonings, the three-month herb body cleansing kit and more. We farm-publish many documents on herbs, the immune system, biodynamic growing and other topics.
Throughout the summer, we offer guided farm visits and one-day workshops on all aspects of our work with the plants. Between seven and 12 people work on the farm, depending on the season and on the needs, and they are involved in most of the different aspects of the business, creating a wonderfully versatile support group.
This spring I started offering a correspondence course in herbalism. The first year aims to form family herbalists, mom and dad plant pros. The second and third years of herbal studies will aim to produce full-fledged herbalists. I teach and share all my recipes for I believe we do not own knowledge from the past and certainly dont lose it when we share it.
Happy Valley Herbs
3497 Happy Valley Road
Victoria, B.C. V9C 2Y2
by Lynda Dowling
Pineapple still comes from Hawaii (even semi-tropical Victoria cannot pull off pineapple groves), but pineapple mint can be grown in most parts of Canada. Mint has the reputation of being an opportunistic herb. I like to think its quite an intelligent herb and have figured out that those other more stoic herbs, like rosemary or sage, are such slow pokes. With all that lovely earth just waiting to be gobbled up or conquered, why hold yourself back? If mint ruled the world, it would be a cooling green world, smelling heavenly fresh and with no thorns.
Now that is life on a herb farm, discovering the personalities and portfolios of 200300 historic herbs that have survived all manner of human events.
Happy Valley Herb Farm is now entering its 10th year with its public nursery area, display gardens for "show n smell", production field of fresh cut culinary herbs for the restaurants and public, everlastings for the florist and craft person alike, and my passion two fields of more than 1000 lavender plants for a touch of Provence.
The nursery area is twinned to the sections of the teaching display garden areas: culinary, craft, landscaping, medicinal and exotic herbs. In turn, the display gardens are based on a traditional English-style herb garden with quarters planted in culinary herbs and edible flowers, craft and potpourri herbs, old world folklore medicinal herbs and landscaping herbs, with a silver and white theme. Exotics from the warm greenhouses are popped into display pots outside in late May: lemon grass, pineapple and fruit sage, lemon verbena, scented geraniums, succulent Cuban oregano and more.
The flip side of this formal garden layout is the other main display design which is shaped in whimsical butterfly wings, complete with germander hedging. It is filled with all manner of leafy herbs for the ravenous caterpillar time of the butterflys life lots of angelica, fennel and lovage. Borage too. Nectar-bearing blooms for the ethereal winged stage are supplied by oregano, chives, carnations, dianthus and buddleia at the moment. We are trying to show its quite natural to have creepy, crawly insects and bugs in any garden, so we start with the prettiest ones. Then we can show nymph ladybugs, aphid predators in natures gardening techniques for balance in the bug world.
The farm is open to the public from April 1 to October 1, Wednesday through Sunday, 12:30 to 5 p.m. Lots of days I might as well be on a dairy farm with morning and evening chores, as I water and tend my thousands of greenhouse babies, opening and closing doors, watering 3 and 4 times a day when May is unseasonably hot, as it was this year. But there is the odd lyrical summers day when I can dress in a long flowing skirt, basket in hand and pick herbs and flowers all day.
We baby field crops of basil with plastic tunnels to protect them from late afternoon coastal breezes in spring and from cold morning breezes in late summer. But for all the basic hard work in seeding, planting, tending and harvest, October, the time to bed the garden down again, comes all too soon.
During the last days of May, I wake up to the scent of honeysuckle, tuck freshly chopped mint in my childrens breakfast pineapple muffins and tend my other thousands of babies with manure tea for their breakfast! I daydream of the days to come, picking rose petals for jelly or harvesting my lavender in a long skirt, and I am full of gratitude that I can still create a corner of Eden in this mad and heavenly world.
Box 6, Aberdeen
Saskatchewan S0K 0A0
by Helga Halfinger
In my gardens, 18 miles north of Saskatoon, I grow fresh organic herbs for an ever-increasing market. I have built a reputation for supplying consistent quality in the wide variety of culinary, medicinal and everlasting herbs I grow and sell. Basil is certainly the favorite of all my customers.
I sell herb plants at the public farmers market in Saskatoon and to landscaping contractors. In addition, about five restaurants purchase my fresh culinary herbs. Once I week I deliver herbs that have been picked, washed, spun, bagged and labelled that day. Although my selling season runs from May to October, consistent supply throughout the year for the restaurants is assured by an agreement with Prairie Plant Systems who grow organic herbs in underground mines through the winter months.
The region along the South Saskatchewan River, above 52° north latitude, has an average of 115 frost-free days per season. We are blessed with long, sun-filled days in an environment free from pollution and chemicals. Many of my herbs are grown in the gardens around my home, although we do use a greenhouse as well. My husband and son share all aspects of the work load during the season.
Herbs have sensual attributes of exceptionally good aroma and flavor. The varied textures and colors serve to provide diversity in the gardens. Interest in the cultivation and use of herbs is growing rapidly because of the natural trend of consumers and an increasing awareness of healthy lifestyle choices.
Although organic gardening is labor intensive, the joy of seeing children pick and eat leaves and flowers that are free of contaminants and poison is very satisfying.
Ravenhill Herb Farm
1330 Mount Newton Crossroad
Saanichton, B.C. V8M 1S1
by Andrew Yeoman
Our farm is located 15 miles outside the city of Victoria. The population of greater Victoria is close to 300,000, and the tourist season here is coincident with the growing season.
We started by growing the most popular culinary herbs basil, tarragon, chives, fennel, oregano and dill. We wrote letters to six restaurants which we felt would appreciate a supply of fresh herbs. The letters were followed up with phone calls, and in 1981 we had our first customer. The herbs were picked on Friday morning and delivered the same afternoon from April to late September. The number of restaurants and delis increased rapidly to 24, buying about $12,000 worth of fresh herbs for six months of the year. With 24 restaurants, we found that the time to make deliveries cut into the time necessary for growing the plants. At the same time, a live-in caretaker/ gardener wished to grow and sell culinary and landscape herb plants from the farm. So we changed our focus: we reduced deliveries from two days to one day a week, and we opened the farm to the public on Sundays for the sale of herb plants and fresh-cut herbs.
One of the main attractions of growing herbs is the number of avenues which are open to growers to expand their income.
Noel Richardson, my wife and partner, was greatly interested in cooking and eating. We self-published a 60-page booklet of recipes and to our surprise sold 2000 copies. A publisher encouraged Noel to write Summer Delights, Cooking With Fresh Herbs which has now sold 50,000 copies in North America. Summer Delights was followed by Winter Pleasures, both published by Whitecap Books of Vancouver and Toronto. Noel wrote restaurant reviews for Western Living for six years and now writes a monthly country living column for City Food of Vancouver and Toronto.
Writing about growing has been an occupation for me for the past 18 months. A Westcoast Kitchen Garden (Whitecap, 1995) provides growing information on the more than 90 culinary herbs and vegetables grown at Ravenhill, with additional chapters on composting, green manures, mulching and so on. The cultivation methods are organic.
Noel and I and our two live-in caretakers look after the farm and its demonstration garden. The caretakers work part time off the farm and have a building on the farm for the sale of their herbal soaps and country crafts. Between 100 and 200 people visit the farm on Sundays. "Xmas in the Barn", our annual craft fair on the third Sunday of November, draws many hundreds of people. The garden is a resource base for local artists, gardening clubs, horticultural and landscape design students, and chefs in training.
The farm provides us with sufficient income for a substantial part of the year and supplies us with health-giving herbs, fruit and vegetables for the whole year.
Writing about the farm is currently an important part of our lives, but this could be replaced by such income-earning ventures as classes in herb-related activities cooking, preserving and growing or making vinegars and potpourris. The growing side could be expanded with the construction of heated and unheated greenhouses and by growing a wide range of edible flowers, specialty salad greens and vegetables. The marketing side could be expanded by opening the farm to visitors on more days a week and by participating in local farmers markets. The key to profitable growing on this small and unmechanized scale is direct marketing to the consumer.
Riversong Herbals & Naturals
Mount Forest, Ontario N0G 2L0
by Pat Crocker
Herbs are increasing in popularity because they allow us to connect with nature. Working with herbs, wild-crafting (a term herabalists use for gathering wild herbs), cooking, gardening, or even just reading and dreaming about them brings a sense of well being, joy and inner harmony just what we need in the face of the heavy demands of life in the 90s.
I have witnessed this growing trend first-hand. For four years, I have been running Herb Walks with Gourmet Lunch programs from our log cabin near Mount Forest, Ontario. Each year, response has been growing and during the 1994 season, each scheduled date was fully booked with the overflow resulting in extra sessions added. In 1995, more dates were added for the Herb Walk and all dates in May and June were sold out, with the rest of the season booking steadily.
The focus of my business is education and communication. Workshops and Herb Walks with Gourmet Lunch are the main thrust of Riversong Herbals & Naturals. I teach night classes at local high schools and at the Toronto Civic Garden Centre and give lectures around the province to horticultural and culinary societies. I write a regular column, "The Herbal Link", that appears in several monthly publications including The Canadian Journal of Herbalism, and I have written about herbs for magazines.
Just this year, a small retail store was opened at the cabin, to sell the hand-made, all-natural herbal products made right here. These products include ointments (calendula, lavender, chamomile), herbal oils (St. Johns Wort, comfrey, calendula), Gardeners Friend Hand Salve (from comfrey oil, lavender flowerbuds, cocoa butter, beeswax and other all-natural ingredients), cough syrup, and Lavender Bath Oil and Bath Rub.
I have learned about herbs through research, workshops (offered through the Ontario Herbalists Society) and more than 10 years of hands-on experimentation. Everything I know I now share with those who want to eat better, feel better and live better.
What is the reason for the growing interest in cultivated and wildcrafted herbs? I see a renaissance in food that is taking place in the gardens, kitchens and dinner tables of Canadians. That renaissance is reflected in an increase in home herb and vegetable gardens and farmers markets; an interest in healthy eating; an emphasis on nourishing the spirit along with the body; a desire to get closer to the food we eat; a growing respect for the environment; and a return to seasonal cooking. Herbs seem to embody these emerging attitudes toward food.
Herbs offer an earthly dimension to home cooking and their rich folklore entices us to delve into their deeper gifts. Their smells, unalloyed tastes, tactile qualities and simple remedies offer sensual encounters. And thats a welcome respite from todays fast-paced, highly technical, often isolating way of living.
Root Woman & Dave
Box 86, Alvena
Saskatchewan S0K 0E0
by Kahlee Keane
For a few years now, I have been teaching people how to make medicine from the wild plants in their own bioregion. This is not a new idea. Folk medicine has been around for a long time. It just seems that a lot of Canadians have forgotten the knack of caring for themselves. My husband, David Howarth, and I have travelled in almost every province giving medicine walks and telling the story of the plants. We have written wild medicine books so that people have an inexpensive and handy reference for medicine making. We have now settled here in Saskatchewan and are starting into the second phase of our dream, to have an herbal co-operative so that those who are interested in making their own medicine can have a place to purchase good organic or ethically wildcrafted medicinal herbs.
In the city of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, a lovely little nonprofit co-operative called Healthy Harvest is diversifying and starting a mail order service for its many organic products which include macrobiotic foodstuffs. This co-op is going to act as the receiving and shipping point for the herbs. At last we will be assured that we can buy reasonably priced, organically grown or ethically wildcrafted herbs with no irradiation, no adulteration and no government red tape! We know it will be a slow beginning, but with input from producers and purchasers of the herbs, we know it will blossom (no pun intended).
For more information, please send a SASE to Janis Reese, Healthy Harvest Food & Craft Co-op, Box1856,Tisdale,Saskatchewan S0E 1T0 or call (306) 873-4685.
Swan Valley Herb Mill Co-op
Minitonas, Manitoba R0L 1G0
By Lyn Kublick
The Swan Valley Herb Mill Co-op is a diverse group of people, linked together by an interest in herbs. Just as there are many reasons to grow and use herbs, there are a variety of reasons that Mill members and friends come to meetings. Most members are farmers and gardeners looking for an interesting crop and possibly a little extra cash. Others have learned that there is a market for "weeds" and come to learn about wildcrafting. To these people, the idea of selling nettles, chickweed and dandelions is a fascinating prospect. Members share an interest in producing a good organic product.
Mill President Glenn Beals is a long-time organic farmer. At a recent meeting he described organic methods of weed and pest control to a fascinated audience. Several present were farmers just learning that it is possible to survive without chemical sprays on field-scale crops.
Each month the Mill executive tries to provide a speaker to address one of the many areas of interest to the group. In May, Bernice Toews, a medical herbalist from Virden, gave information on the way she uses herbs and which plants are in demand. Her training with the College of Phytotherapy in England links her to the traditional European use of herbs as alternative medicine. Only one of six Canadians to complete the very strict course, Bernice is extremely scientific in her use of herbs.
The Mill is still in the process of developing markets. So far, herbs are being gathered from the wild and grown in small plots. These herbs are dried and sold without further processing. One member, Mary Jane Eichler, sold over 50 pounds of dried nettles last year. Culinary markets have been explored, but only one for a blended herbal salt substitute has been found. Two herbal practitioners are willing to buy directly from the Mill. In addition, Doug Elsasser of Parkland Botanicals in Togo, Saskatchewan has been acting as a broker for the group.
The Swan Valley Herb Mill Co-op is an infant industry, still seeking specialization. In the meantime, members and friends are learning together and enjoying the venture.
Copyright© 1995. Letters to Cognition
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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