Evolving visions

My goals for Wild Heart Botanicals are constantly evolving.  The idea of starting an herb farm was in the back of my mind for years, and it got a jump start when my friend Dana and I started brainstorming herbal business possibilities in 2015.  She'd been training as a midwife and postpartum doula and had been thinking about making herbal products for women's reproductive health.  I mostly wanted to grow herbs, but I'd been studying the ethnobotany of women's health after graduate school and was keen on putting it into practice.  So, we got as far as forming a name and throwing lots of ideas around, and then she realized there were too many unknowns in her immediate future to commit to a business.  Though I would've loved to have a partner, I just kept running with it on my own.

For the next year, I experimented with products and business plans, buying dried herbs from multiple companies to compare quality and making all kinds of tea blends for different stages of women's lives.  "Smiling Mama" was to help with postpartum depression, "Cramp-Less" was really effective for menstrual cramps, and my pregnancy tonic tea was tested by my sister during her first pregnancy.   I hosted a tea tasting to get feedback on different blends and hired my friend Erica at Taiga Press to help design my logo and branding.  I was definitely over-planning, but it was fun and promising and kept my herbal curiosity alive.

Then I started farming again!  Diving back into work I wholeheartedly love, and that's physically and socially demanding, allowed me to step back from any pressure to create a thriving business.  My endless Google Drive documents with product brainstorms and sales forecasts have been sitting idly for over two years now as I've re-prioritized my goals for Wild Heart.  I immediately realized I couldn't tackle the food and drug safety regulations that a tea or tincture business would face, so I decided to focus solely on skin care.  The first year, I made salves from purchased dry herbs, sold them in a little box at the Youth Farm stands, and called it good.  I'm not a marketing-minded person, nor do I love product design and packaging, so I was missing the part of herbalism that I love most: real connections with living plants.  Last year, I rented a community garden plot, bought seeds from local companies, and finally planted (almost) all the herbs I use to make my salves.  I was finally on the track I originally envisioned with this endeavor: growing herbs and sharing them with others.

Last year's experiments went well.  I hand-harvested what felt like a crazy amount of blossoms (chamomile, calendula, and red clover), dried many of them in a food dehydrator for personal use and sale, and made herbal oils for my salves with freshly harvested plantain, yarrow, calendula, comfrey, lavender, chamomile, and St. John's wort.  (You can find lots of photos of the process on my Instagram page.)  I also experimented with propagating herbs at the farm for our plant sales, made a variety of tinctures as usual, and planted a second small herb garden near the farm stand to beautify the area and use during workshops.  It all felt good and productive, and offered a great outlet for my need to solve problems and feel independent and creative.

This season, I haven't put too much thought into how to move forward.  The one major thing that's shifted over the past few years is that I know I don't want to make a livelihood from owning a business, and I've stopped caring much about making an income from this project.  I'd like it to fund itself, sure, and I think I'm to that point through salve sales, but I don't care to make a profit.  It's just not what I value in the herbal world, and I feel strange trying to make money for myself from medicinal plants.  So, I'm planning to continue making salves to sell locally, growing herbs to use and share, and beyond that I just want to keep learning and experimenting with plants.

Which brings me to yesterday evening.  After closing up sheds and greenhouses for the day, I lingered for an hour into the golden evening to sow more herb seeds.  I'd somewhat impulsively ordered a new collection of seeds from the Thyme Garden, and the seeds arrived over the weekend.  Some of them I'm already growing from root divisions (boneset, agrimony, blue vervain) and want to try starting from seed, others I've only met in others' gardens but never grown myself (wild bergamot, coffee chicory, chaste tree), and a couple I need for my salves and want to see how they do from seed (St. John's wort, lavender).  

 Seeding herbs

Seeding herbs

 Agrimony seeds

Agrimony seeds

I'm so used to vegetables, it's such a fun surprise to work with new seeds: they're all different shapes and sizes, and tell another part of each plant's life history.  Who knew that agrimony seeds were so bulky and acorn-like, or that you can barely see lavender seeds?  I opened each pack with a playful anticipation and tucked in each variety separately, according to whether it needs light or fine soil or a solid cover to germinate.  I've started getting this feeling, as the veggie starts grow and need transplanting and we're seeding more and everything's cruising, that the whole season has started rolling with its own momentum-- that it's out of our hands and we're just here to support this unfolding.  It felt joyful to throw more herbs into that unfolding, to let grow whatever will grow and push me to continue caring for so many plants.