We currently have 7 acres of farm/forest land, with 3 acres tillable. This is new land. We are in the process of transplanting perennial herbs from previously rented land and greenhouse space to the new land. We are waiting to hear if we have been awarded an EQUIP grant for a new high tunnel that would help extend the season of our herbs. We are also working with EQUIP to fence in the property for deer control. We have been growing herbs for 3 years on organically certified land. Our hope is to have our new land certified organic within two years. We are also in the process of completing a food processing kitchen for our freeze drying business, and plan to have it certified as well. This will allow us to sell freeze dried herbs for culinary purposes, such as teas.
Today’s herbalists prepare their products using a combination of fresh and dried herbs. While fresh herbs impart a higher degree of color, aroma, flavor, and active constituents, they also introduce moisture into the process that can lead to molding. For this reason most herbalists turn to dried herbs for use in their products. Dried herbs eliminate much of the moisture, but also lose many of the properties that make the herbs beneficial to the final product. Access to locally and sustainably grown dried herbs is also very limited.
Freeze drying provides a cost effective and improved alternative to preserving herbs. It removes 98%+ of the moisture while preserving most of the color, flavor, aroma, and constituents found in fresh herbs. The availability of home freeze dryers makes it possible for artisan producers to have access to locally grown, freeze dried herbs and the potential to improve the quality of their products.
This project is designed to determine if freeze dried herbs can be successfully used in herbal products, and if there is any noticeable improvement in the quality of the products. It will also determine if there is perceived market value in having access to locally and sustainably grown herbs.
- Determine the viability of using freeze dried herbs in the manufacture of herbal products (tinctures, creams, infused oils, salves, lip balms, etc.) including performance during processing, and quality of final product.
- Identify perceived improvements by producers of customers in the quality, effectiveness, and market value of herbal products manufactured with freeze dried herbs in their products.
- Identify opportunities for local artisans producing herbal products to increase their market share by using freeze dried vs traditionally dried herbs.
- Introduce opportunities for local herb growers to diversify their product offerings by freeze drying their herbs.
Finding local herbalists willing to participate in the research grant has been more difficult than I expected. I approached the members of my local chapter of the Herb Society of America only to find that none of them actually produce products for sale. I also contacted a local herbal product retail store that sells items on consignment. I found an herbalist with a farm about 30 miles to the north who took several samples of my freeze dried herbs to try in her recipes. Unfortunately, she went out of business unexpectedly. I also contacted a few of the soap and salve makers who sell locally, and found that many of them are using essential oils instead of dried herbs.
To continue getting the word out, I have been distributing samples of my freeze dried herbs to members of the Herb Society, and enlisting their help to find willing participants. Originally my plan was to stay local in northeastern WI. I’m broadening my search to include all of WI. I now have two committed participants. Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm on Washington Island has committed to hosting a tea tasting event using three blends of herbal teas at their store over one weekend in July. Jane Hawley-Stevens of Four Elements Herbals in North Freedom has also committed to making several of her recipes with my herbs. Jane is one of the largest organic herbal product producers in the state, and has been a mentor of mine for several years. She will be starting her testing in June when she returns from an upcoming overseas trip. I do believe that having Jane involved in my study will go a long way towards getting other herbalists to join the study.
Educational & Outreach Activities
I participated in one interview for the Green Bay Press after the 2018 SARE grant recipients were announced. The article was published online and the link is listed below. I gave a presentation to the members of the Northeast Chapter of the WI Herb Society organization on the grant and my goals for finding participants. In August I attended a three-day herb growers intensive at Four Elements Herb Farm in Baraboo, WI along with six other herb growers. I brought samples of my freeze dried herbs, which we sampled in teas and a few simple products during the intensive. I explained the purpose of the grant research. I have met with the owners of a local herb store, Sweet Willow, to discuss the grant, and provide samples for them. They are willing to host a meet and greet with some of the herbalists who sell their products in the store. Unfortunately, they have decided to close the store in June, so it will be a tight schedule to organize the meet and greet.
Throughout the first year I really found myself having to educate people on freeze drying as a preservation method. Very few people understood the process, which I think contributed to my slow start. I have given away 50+ samples of herbs for people to try in various recipes, and only recently (within the last few month) started getting responses back from my follow up email.
I made the decision to retire from my part-time day job in order to devote more time to getting my new farm up and running, my food processing kitchen built and certified, and finding participants for the grant research project. I am confident that I can ‘catch up’ on the activities needed to complete the study. I am very grateful and excited to have Jane Hawley-Stevens participating in the study. Her contributions will help give the study validity, especially for those herbal product producers who were hesitant to work with someone they didn’t know.