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.


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