Meet our friend Emily of Meeting House Farm and hear about all the care that goes into growing just some of the botanicals in your favorite Ned blends.
Ned: What’s the name of your farm and where are you located?
Emily: We are Meeting House Farm in Scarborough Maine.
Ned: What makes your farm special and unique?
Emily: We are an organic herb farm along the coast of Maine, and we are also a collaborative of 25 other regenerative farms across the Northeast. The majority of our farms are woman owned. Our farm in Scarborough is a no-till farm from 1731. We took over stewardship of this land in 2017 and have been bringing the farm back to life. It was originally a 100 acre farm and is now 2.5 acres surrounded by suburban homes. We offer a pesticide free refuge for pollinators in the middle of suburbia. Many folks are surprised to find an active farm in the middle of a subdivision. The farm was here before any of the houses.
Ned: Can you share a bit about how you got into farming and agriculture?
Emily: I come from generations of farmers in Virginia. Growing up, we grew our own food. I lived a life where food is medicine and we looked to plants first for healing. After college, I had little to do with agriculture. I graduated with an International Relations/Economics degree and worked in Financial Services. Once I had our kids (twins who are now 16), I started coming back to using plants as medicine. I got back into growing our own food and medicine. One year I ran out of the elderflower that I’d dried. Elderflower is native to Maine and should be easy to find. I couldn’t find it anywhere and ended up ordering it online from a company that sourced it from Bulgaria! I realized that this shouldn’t be. Shortly after, we found the farm we are currently working with and two years after that, I started the collaborative and left financial services to farm and run the collaborative full time.
Ned: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being in your field (no pun intended)?
Emily: My favorite days are the days I go to visit our partner farms, walk through the fields and talk about soil. I’m a huge soil geek. My primary goal on our farm is to build the soil every year. I have our soil tested yearly and it is great to see the change since we started farming here.
Ned: What’s the most challenging aspect?
Emily: Balancing time in the field with the business portion. I love being with the plants, but the computer time is so necessary for us to make this farm financially feasible.
Ned: What does regenerative agriculture mean to you?
Emily: In a word, SOIL! Building the soil with growing practices that will leave the earth better than we found it. This also means no pesticides, using herbs as fertilizers and insect/fungal control, leaving the trees in the fields and getting really good at compost. We build all of our rows without tilling. We lay down clean cardboard, top that with 6-8 inches of organic compost and another 2-3 inches of deciduous wood chips. We let this sit for 6 months and plant in it in the next season. It is amazing what the compost does to the soil below it. We have 18 inches of amazing soil created as the compost and wood chips seep into the topsoil.
Ned: What does ethical sourcing mean to you?
Emily: Quality, local and regenerative with a fair price paid. In the medicinal herb field, this is especially important. All of our herbs are grown on local farms where I personally know each farmer, how they grow and how they process the herbs. Intention is important, hand-picked is important. It is so easy to lose medicinal value when herbs are machine picked and processed. Minimal processing is important to maintain quality.
Ned: What does plant medicine mean to you?
Emily: We use plants first at our house. When we don’t feel well, or just to maintain vigor, we all consume plants daily. Using food as medicine is a big part of this. I am also thankful that we have conventional allopathic medicine. Plant medicine should be the first place you go – not the last resort. Plant medicine and allopathic medicine aren’t mutually exclusive – when used intentionally they can complement each other.
Ned: How do you want to see the agriculture industry evolve in the years ahead?
Emily: I see a big increase in herb farming here in the US. Currently 90+% of the herbs grown are grown in Europe or Asia. Herb farming can be easily regenerative and a great way for farms to diversify their crop plan.
Ned: What’s something you wish more people knew about regenerative agriculture?
Emily: You don’t have to be certified organic to be regenerative. Start small. Make little changes. See the difference.
Ned: What’s the best way our readers can support small farms and regenerative agriculture?
Emily: Buy your food and herbs from local sources. Know your farmers and support those that farm regeneratively. An organic certification doesn’t always mean regenerative.
Ned: Why did you join the Farm to Ned Alliance?
Emily: Ned has very similar values to those of Meeting House Farm. We love working with great folks.
Ned: What is it like working with Ned?
Emily: I love working with Ned! Our team especially loved the goody box Vida sent along.
Ned: How does Ned support you and your team and the work you’re doing?
Emily: Having a large wholesaler that orders regularly really helps our bottom line. You don’t get rich farming and a consistent wholesale order helps us to pay our team.
Ned: Can you tell us about what’s involved in growing the lemon balm and red clover we use in our Balance Blend?
Emily: We grow some perennial lemon balm from seed each year to replenish our rows. Occasionally we lose plants in our Maine winters. We start lemon balm in March – after the equinox. To ensure that we have plenty of lemon balm, we fill in our rows each year. New plants are put out in June. We start hand-harvesting leaves from the older plants in June. We hand harvest every two weeks through freeze. Harvest is best just before the plants bloom. The bees love the blossoms so much that we always leave a few to blossom so that the bees can enjoy. We mulch the plants with dried oak and maple leaves. After harvest we dry the lemon balm leaves for 3-5 days in a dry room that is 80 degrees and 30% humidity. Once dry we “garble” the leaves so that they are in 1/8 inch pieces, perfect for infusions. We garble by hand on a stainless steel screen. This ensures the highest quality. Garbled leaves are bagged and labeled and shipped out to Ned.
Red Clover is grown in a field for one to two years. Red clover is such a beautiful crop that feeds the soil as well as the humans that need its medicine. Broadcast seeded across a field and covered with straw to speed germination, Red Clover is grown en masse. My favorite harvest method is used by Becky Frye of Horsetail Farm in NY. She harvests Red Clover with her horse team! We dry red clover blossoms on large fabric screens in our drying room. We don’t garble these blossoms – they are amazing as is. Once they dry for 5-7 days we package them up and ship them out to Ned.
Ned: Can you tell us about what’s involved in growing the skullcap we use in our Sleep Blend?
Emily: Skullcap is a perennial herb that does well in our Maine climate. Skullcap spreads via runners, so our patch is ever growing. This is a good thing because skullcap sells out each year! We hand harvest the leaves just before flowering. We dry in our dry room on screens. Skullcap dries quickly, in about 3 days. We garble skullcap and then we grind the stems. Skullcap leaves are very small and there are a LOT of stems. The stems contain just as much medicine as the leaves, so we chop them into uniform sizes using a food processor like machine. We don’t want to waste their amazing medicine. We harvest skullcap about once a month from June - October.
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Ned: Can you tell us about what’s involved in growing the elderflower and thyme we use in our Immunity Blend?
Emily: Elder is native to Maine. We cultivate a varietal of Sambucus nigra. The flowers bloom for a very short period in June. I am constantly checking the plants to see when they will be ready. We harvest only 1/2 of the flowers available, saving the others to turn into Elderberries later in the year. Elderflowers are soft with a distinctive scent. They dry very quickly in our dry room and we pack them up to ship off to Ned.
Ned: Can you tell us about what’s involved in growing the arnica and calendula we use in our Relief Balm and Daily Balm?
Emily: Arnica blooms only once per year, but there is a three week period where you can harvest almost daily. We make the most of this. Our arnica rows expand each year. When we planted our original seedlings we purposefully left space for the plants to spread. Arnica spreads quickly once established. The roots are also medicinal but we’d rather have the plant keep spreading so that we can have more blooms. We dry the blooms in our dry room. They have resin in the calyx (the active part of the arnica medicine) so they take about 5 days to dry fully. Once dry, arnica blossoms tend to puff out. The resin is still there in the calyx, though. We turn all of our arnica blossoms into arnica oil. This is an infusion process that happens once the blossoms are dry. We infuse jojoba extract with the blossoms for 8 days at 80 degrees to get a high quality arnica oil. We double filter this oil, seal and bottle it for Ned.
We start all of our annual calendula plants from our saved seed in March. The plants are quite hardy so they are some of the first to go into the ground. Calendula blooms from June through freeze. It’s a LONG season and we harvest hundreds of pounds by hand. Our hands get sticky with the resin and our backs hurt from bending over the plants. Calendula is harvested 3-5 times per week. We dry the blossoms on fabric screens in our dry room. Like arnica, calendula has a resin filled calyx which contains the active constituents. Calendula blossoms take a minimum of 5 days to dry. Once dry we infuse in jojoba extract, following the same procedure as the arnica.
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