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Milk and Honey Herbs Grows

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 September Issue Newsletter

Suzy Konecky, NOFA/ Mass Beginning Farmer Coordinator

Jade Alicandro is a Community Herbalist growing her own farm business. She is a participant in the NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Journeyperson Program this year as she builds Milk & Honey Herbs, her medicinal plant nursery. Jade studied in the Wise Woman Tradition of Herbalism; she has been working with herbs and medicinal plants for years, but it now starting out on the full journey of her own farm. As a participant in the Journeyperson program, she works with her mentor farmer, Jonathan Bates of Food Forest Farm. He grows perennial vegetables such as sea kale, sunchoke, hog peanut, and paw paw. Jonathan and Jade have worked closely together this spring as she has been working out the details of starting her own operation.
 
Plant propagation has been one of the biggest topics that Jade and Jonathan have discussed, specifically with regards to timing of potting plants up. “We talk about the nitty gritty sort of details,” says Jade. That’s what having a mentor is for - someone who can help you figure out the answers to the small persistent questions, and who has been through the various trials and tribulations that you are tackling.
 
Another learning goal of Jade’s is to get more comfortable shipping plants, since she will start shipping plants herself next spring. Jonathan ships a lot of plants, mostly reusing collected boxes. In order to ship a live plant, he wraps the pot tightly in plastic so the soil doesn’t spill. The real trick to shipping plants Jade says, is to pack the box super tight so that when it moves through transport the leaves don’t get crushed.
 
In the Beginning Farmer Journeyperson program, mentors and mentees can communicate using whatever methods work best for them. Jonathan and Jade both have 11 month old babies, so it is difficult for them to find time to connect over the phone, but Jade sends questions to Jonathan over email. The business of running a nursery is very seasonal; fall and spring are the busy times for propagation. This year, during the busy time of April and May, Jade worked with Jonathan at least one day per week helping him fill orders and propagate the plants. Jade has learned from Jonathan how to get a better sense of timing. Says Jade, “in terms of how early in the spring to pot things up and keep them growing slowly... It gave me some perspective of when to really start working.” As I have talked with the beginning farmers participating in the Journeyperson and Mentorship programs this year, a thematic learning experience that they seem to share is gaining a sense of timing from their mentors.
 
Jade is planning for how to fill orders next year. Jonathan has his customers do pre-orders in the winter. Using this method, the orders come in early enough to buy soil and pots, etc. This follows a similar financing scheme as the CSA model, with the funds coming in up front. Jade says that she is toying with that model; there are nuances of different systems and she is glad to have a first hand experience with Jonathan’s model.
 
In addition to starting her nursery, Jade makes handcrafted herbal products that she sells through her website and local CSAs. She also leads herb walks and herbal classes in the Pioneer Valley region. Jade also offers herbal consultations in which she discusses health concerns with her clients and helps them incorporate herbal products into their healing path. Finally, Jade has been offering professional gardening assistance since 2005. Sheworks independently and with Treefrog Landscapes, Wise Ways Herbals, School Sprouts Educational Gardens. She incorporates permaculture principles into her gardening practice and enjoys helping clients develop their creative vision.
 
Jade and Jonathan both have thorough websites. Check them out to learn more about the great work they are doing. You can find Jade’s website at: www.milkandhoneyherbs. com and Jonathan’s at: www.permaculturenursery.com. They both have loads of information about their farms and offerings.
 
With any questions about the NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer program, contact Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator Suzy Konecky at suzy@nofamass.org.
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