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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Great Plains Lavender Growers Group

I don’t get to go on many road trips so I was excited to take a trip this weekend with my husband to Kansas to visit with other Lavender growers. I’m a founding member of the United States Lavender Growers Association (USLGA) and we’ve talked about forming ‘regional groups’ or ‘branches’ so growers can get some mentoring and advice from other growers geographically close to them. Hence, the USLGA Great Plains Lavender Growers Group was put together and met for the second time this weekend.

We met at Washington Creek Lavender, the farm of Jack and Kathy Wilson just south of Lawrence for an informal gathering and discussions on a variety of lavender related topics. Their farm is nestled in a beautiful hilly area of Kansas.  They put a good amount of space between their rows, something we may do on future plantings.

While driving there and back, my husband and I also stopped at two other farms; Morford Lavender Farm (Jim and Wanda Morford) in Kanopolis and Prairie Lavender Farm (Mike and Diane Neustrom) near Bennington.

Two farms represented Colorado; Trudy and Bob Perry from Heritage Lavender in Berthoud and myself, from Colorado Aromatics Herb Farm in Longmont. There were also people who came from Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. 

Lavender growers are very willing to help each other and grow the industry together. Coming from very diverse backgrounds everyone brings something unique to the table. With such different problem solving skills get-togethers are lively and informative. We talked about how we each grow lavender, essential oils, distilling, varieties, agritourism, niches and more.

One fun thing we mentioned was having an I-70 lavender tour. How far would you travel to see various lavender farms?

Maybe next year we will host a lavender gathering at our farm.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Touring Celestial Seasonings

Touring Celestial Seasonings is a great thing to do if in the Boulder, Colorado area. This herbal tea company has been around since the 1970's and I have been drinking their teas almost since their inception. I've taken out of town visitors their several times and when our Rocky Mountain Unit of the Herb Society of America decided to have our annual tea party there last week, I jumped at the chance to do another tour.

Our Herb Society Unit planted the initial herb garden at Celestial Seasonings sometime in the 1990's, but none of us could come up with an exact year. When we toured it was all under snow so we didn't get a chance to see how its held up.

Our tour guide had been with the company for over 30 years so we got to relive a lot of the history of the company. Remember Mo's 36, which later became Mo's 24? I remember buying that at the local health food coop. This initial tea blend was made from herbs gathered by founders Mo Siegel, John Hay, Peggy Clute, and Lucinda Ziesings in the Rocky Mountain area around Boulder. Apparently, no one thought it tasted good and they dropped that initial tea blend.

Their first tea blend that became quite popular was Sleepy Time and the beautiful artwork of the Sleepy Time Bear certainly helped. Celestial Seasonings made herbal teas mainstream and when they were bought by Kraft they were sold in grocery stores instead of just health food stores. Now of course, Hain Celestial owns the tea company. They have 87 different blends now. The Morning Thunder was my favorite in college for late night study groups, now I like the Zingers.

I'm of course concerned that most of their herbs are purchased overseas, in face from 35 different countries, but apparently alfalfa, orange peel, and mint do come from the US. We need to have more large herbs farms in the US to support our businesses.

Here is some of the artwork from the packages that they display in the lobby. Part of their values are 'Beauty and Truth' which makes its way over to the beautiful and original artwork on all the packages.

I am always mesmerized by the robotic equipment that folds the boxes and liners, and stuffs them etc. Another robotic arm stacks boxes on a pallet for shipping. But my favorite part of the Celestial Seasonings tour is the mint room. Yes, an entire room of bags of peppermint. A few minutes standing in there smelling that menthol and I feel like a new person, great for the sinuses too.

You can learn about taking a tour here. Have you been on their tour?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Importance of Farms

Farms are important for many reasons including preserving open space around a city, providing wildlife habitats, as well as the crops they produce. Most people are well aware that their food comes from a farm in the form of vegetables and meat. But are you aware of the other, non-food crops that come from a farm? Throughout time people have always had a rich relationship with plants and plants that were particularly useful then became cultivated. The study of this relationship is often called Economic Botany. 

Plants produce fiber, medicines (both traditional and modern), spices, herbs, perfumes, vegetable oils, waxes, latex, resins, poisons, psychoactive drugs, and alcoholic beverages.

Smaller farms might be especially important because they are more likely to have biodiversity on the farm than large corporate farms that are interested in a single crop.

Lets look for instance at some of the uses of plants that are grown on a farm.

Arts and crafts. Many plants can be used for arts and crafts. Various types of grasses have been used for making baskets, mats, and hats. People are even using pine needles and lavender stems to make baskets. One of my favorite crafts is the lavender wand.

Medicine. Herbs are important medicines used throughout the world. Some of the top medicinal herbs that can be grown in Colorado are Echinacea, Mint and Chamomile. 

Modern medicine has obtained many of their drugs from plants too. Some of these pharmaceutical crops include Yew grown for Paclitaxel, Camptotheca grown for camptothecin, and Galanthus woronowii grown for Galantamine (an Alzheimers drug). The active ingredients from these plants are extracted after harvest for preparation of the therapeutic substances . GlaxoSmithKline makes digoxin from foxglove that is grown in the Netherlands.

Perfume. Scent is one of the most delightful things about herbs and this property also makes them important in sensory gardens. The most common way of obtaining scent or perfume from plants is by distillation to produce an essential oil. However, there are other ways that scent is extracted as well. Common plants used for perfume are lavender and rose. On our farm we distill aromatic herbs to obtain the aromatic water. We routinely distill lavender, rose, tulsi, cucumber, lemon balm, clary sage and mint.

Fiber. Fiber crops can be used for clothing, basketry or building materials. Common crops used for clothing are hemp, agave, cotton, and linen. Animal hairs are also common fibers used such as wool from sheep and mohair from angora goats.

Flavor. Culinary herbs provide the bulk of plants grown for flavor. Some of my favorites are Basil used in pesto, garlic used in a variety of dishes and sage.

Cosmetics and Beauty. This is the area that I am most familiar with since I grow herbs to use in Colorado Aromatics Skin Care. Herbs provide an abundant amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents; far more than what you could add to a product from other sources. Perhaps one of the most important herbs used in skin care is calendula, but the number is limitless due to the variety of benefits they provide. Growing these herbs allows us to produce a unique, highly functional, farm to skin brand and to be members of our local farmers market.

Fatty Oils that can be used for cooking and more including cosmetics. In Colorado sunflowers are grown for this purpose although most are used for the production of energy.

Alcohol. The most obvious plants grown for alcohol would be grapes for wine, barley for beer and other grains for distilled spirits. But many other herbs are grown for flavoring alcoholic beverages too. For instance, juniper for flavoring gin. Other herbs used in alcohol are coriander, anise, cardamom and licorice. At Colorado Aromatics, we grow lemon balm for flavoring Trinity Absinthe. 

The Society for Economic Botany is a professional society who's members study the relationship between plants and people. You can find them here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rest and Relaxation

Although I am very reluctant to take vacation I do see its importance in just clearing the mind for new thoughts.  Last week I went to the beach in Mexico for some rest and relaxation and here are some random thoughts.

When on vacation, get in the water no matter how cold it is, its why you are there.
When at an ‘all inclusive’ its best to not start drinking until noon. Drink more water than alcohol.
Simple things like the cleaning staff leaving towels folded like animals makes thing more fun.
At the all you can eat buffet try to focus on fresh fruit; I had some delicious melon.
Talk to new people, even if they don’t speak English. Its fun to figure out ways to communicate.

Living in the US we are lucky to have a relatively short plane ride to warmer weather in Mexico; Europeans don’t have a similar place that is close in the winter.

Sunscreens can damage coral reefs and the ocean. Go easy, try wearing a coverup. You can read a little more about it in my other blog.
Get out of the resort and find an old fishing village to walk around and get a sense of culture.
Europeans smoke alot! I know that is a stereotype, but I am just not used to being around smokers.

Highlights of our trip:

yoga and zumba on the beach
snorkeling on the coral reefs
walking through Mayan ruins
paddle boarding in the ocean
kayaking in the ocean
swimming in pale blue blue ocean water
getting a great book read (Wild by Cheryl Strayed)
long walks on the beach

After not having thought about much for a week (especially work) I’m sure that my business will benefit from some great ideas. One big realization though is knowing that I have a great staff who can take care of things while I am gone. As our company has grown I have benefited from hiring great people who add much to the company.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Easy Herb Drying

This time of year I start to think about spring and what I need to do to get ready for the rush of farming. I remember not having enough space in my herb hut where I dry my herbs. I have a vinyl covered garage building where I dry herbs and inside I have shelves and tables to hold baskets and to lay out herbs. In our dry climate it usually doesn't take long for the herbs to dry so they rotate through the herb hut pretty quickly. But I still need more SPACE.

Two years ago my husband picked up some bread racks at the ReStore because he thought I might find a use for them. Well, I realized that they make very good herb drying racks; I just don't have enough of these plastic bread trays to fully utilize the racks.

So I asked my husband to make some trays that would fit and he came up with these. They are made from standard molding that is 3 feet long, cut and nailed together with a new nail gun he recently got. On the bottom he stapled down some screen material. The sides of these are about 2 inches high and they fit on the bread racks nicely.The screening on the bottom will let enough air circulate so the herbs can dry.

The above picture is our prototype which seems pretty sturdy and easy to handle. Now he can make a lot of them quickly.  This almost makes me excited about cleaning out the herb hut to get it ready for spring/summer!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Five Enzymes Found in Skin

Enzymes are basically proteins that speed up th rate of a chemical reaction. In other words, they make things happen that otherwise would be so slow as to be negligible.  There are many enzymes in skin, these are a few.

1. Tyrosinase – this enzyme regulates the production of skin pigment (melanin).  It is involved in the initial step of melanin (pigment) production by adding a hydroxyl group to the amino acid tyrosine (tyrosine hydroxylation). Some skin lightening products are formulated to inhibit this enzyme.

2. Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMP) – are responsible for breaking down proteins. They are found throughout the body but in skin their role is to breakdown and recycle the skin matrix of the dermis, specifically collagen and elastin. Typically, this is a bad thing because it weakns the matrix and leads to wrinkles; however, this is a good thing if the enzymes are breaking down damaged or worn out structural proteins, facilitating wound healing, or clearing a way for white blood cells to move into infected areas. Some skin care ingredients are designed to inhibit these enzymes.
3. prolyl-4-hydroxylase and lysyl-hydroxylase – These enzymes are responsible for making  collagen, one of the structural proteins of the skin. These enzymes require vitamin C to do their job. In face deficiencies in vitamin C result in the disease scurvy due to impaired collagen. Some skin care ingredients are designed to help boost these enzymes; vitamin C for one.

4. Glutathione-s-transferase (GST) – Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) are a family of Phase II detoxification enzymes that work in the skin and other organs to protect cells from attack by reactive electrophiles. They do this by binding reduced glutathione to the toxic agents. This is the first step in removing these agents. The role of GST in cancer is widely studied.

5. Kallikreins – these are part of a large family known as Serum Proteases that break peptide bonds in proteins. In the skin they help with desquamation. They do this by breaking down the proteins that connect one cell to another in the stratum corneum.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ring Botanicals Perfume

One of my favorite things about having a business is the fascinating people that it has brought into my life. One of those is Jessica Ring, of Ring Botanicals, who has a way with both words and plant essences. 

Jessica is a distiller, a perfumer, and a poet, living on her family farm in Oregon. She distills native Pacific Norwest botanicals as well as farm botanicals to create hydrosols and essential oils that she uses to make natural perfumes.

Recently we decided to trade some products and I excitedly chose two of her perfumes perfumes; Copal Rose and Spice Lavender. Rose and lavender are two of my favorite herbs and fragrances and I was anxious to experience what Jessica did with them.

The Rose Copal has a sweet, warm, somewhat spicy aroma with scents of balsam. Just lightly floral the scent is almost springlike. With time the rose fragrance seems to become more dominant. In fact, I liked it even more after it had been on my skin an hou.

Lavender Spice is a very warm fragrant blend that warmed me on a cold winter day. It is lightly floral light but with the warm, woodsy fragrance of balsam and vanilla.  With time it seems to become more spicey and delicious.

Both reminded me of the Northwest Forests where they were made. And both stay on the skin for a long time.

I love that she says she offers ‘wilderness in a bottle’. You can learn more about Jess and her perfumes here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

US Lavender Conference 2015

What a great few days I had with other lavender growers in San Antonio last week for the United States Lavender Growers Association (USLGA) meeting. I have to say that lavender grower meetings are the most fun meetings I get to attend. USLGA is a relatively new organization, officially formed April 27, 2012 after more than a year of hard work by an organizing committee. I am proud that I was part of that organizing committee, a founding member and a founding board member of USLGA.

So let me tell you a few things I learned while there. Photographer Scott David Gordon gave a great talk on tips for taking farm photography as well as using social media such as Instagram. I think its great that Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which is actually a quite large farm in Texas, hires Scott to take farm pictures on a weekly basis. His work there has helped the farm grow and be more successful.

I went to Robert Seidel’s (of the Essential Oil Company) talk on distilling. He has traveled the world observing and consulting on distilling projects of every kind and had great stories to tell. Aromatherapist Mindy Green talked about some of the properties of lavender essential oil and about making claims (or not). 

Another good talk was Mary Bergstrom talking on the importance of taking measurements; a definite weakness of mine. However, taking measurements in any type of business is important so that you can grow your business. Mary is the President of USLGA and has an extensive background in project management and business solutions. For someone like me with no business background her information is always welcome and I constantly get good ideas from her about how to track and measure outcomes in my business. So if you are not recording any measurements in your business yet, start today. Once you start its easier to add more measurements and understand their importance.

Did you know that there are hundreds of different varieties of lavender? And yes, they look rather similar. Andy Van Hevelingen talked some on distinguishing these varieties. The photo above are some of the bunches he brought.

There were also round table discussions on growing, advocacy, weather related issues, and more. No one went away without new ideas and inspiration.

If you are a lavender grower or enthusiast, I hope you will join USLGA.


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