Farm at Coventry
Location: Pottstown PA
Employees: Itís still only me but I drag my family and
friends in at extra busy times, with herbal perks for their
trouble, of course!
My husband makes all of our soaps and he gets special perks of
his very own! Every year, I offer one work study position for my
course, so I also have an extra set of hands in the garden when
I need it. I also have two fantastic friends who help me at the
farmerís market every Saturday.
Annual Sales (if youíre willing) Last
year, including all aspects of Farm at Coventry business, retail
& wholesale sales of the
herbal products and my educational classes and workshops
combined was over $20,000.
Q: How did you start
(or become owner) of the business? In 1996, I was a new
graduate of David Winstonís Herbal
Therapeutics graduate program and full of inspiration and
enthusiasm. I blended a few specific tea blends and some
salves for clients that were not available in the health food
store where I was employed.
It was out of
necessity that it was born, but satisfactory results and happy
clients moved me to expand the line to what it has grown to be
today. Along with the growing product line, I was sought out to
teach some classes and workshops at chiropractorís
offices, a natural pharmacy and health food stores. Eventually
some of those recipients began to request more in-depth study,
so I created the ďHomestead HerbalismĒ course that will be
starting its 5th year in February 2007. Over the years it has
grown from six to
ten months worth of classes. I am slowly brewing up a 2nd
year course for many who have requested it. All in all, this
business has grown organically, without trying too hard. I often
say I didnít have much choice in the matter. This work has
definitely chosen me.
Q: What made you
choose this type of business I have always been interested
in culinary herbs and then expanded to edible weeds and
medicinal herbs and studied it casually until 1994. I then made
the commitment to travel to New Jersey for the next three years
to the Herbal Therapeutics programs. Making this decision was
definitely a turning point from hobby to passion to life path.
Q: What is your
background? I began study towards an art degree back in the
late seventies and then decided that marriage
and babies were where life was taking me. Experiencing a
few frightful, feverish nights with my kids helped me to realize
had to be something better for me to know as a mother and a
caregiver than dragging them to the doctor every time, feeling
to comfort them myself in a more natural way. That
inspired my interest in natural remedies and also to land a job
in our local health food store. After graduating from herb
school in í96, I realized that helping other women to feel
empowered to take care of their
families was a big part of my job at the store and something I
truly enjoyed. My grandmother and my mother both trained
formally as nurses. I guess I veered off that track slightly.
Q: What are your
biggest challenges as an herb business?
Having to learn every aspect of any business from the ground up
is challenging. The business end of it, the bookkeeping
projecting sales for the next nine months as I plant seeds in
the spring is challenging. That kind of organization has been
the biggest challenge for me. Perhaps my first employee should
be an accounting person with a love of herbs. That would be an
enormous blessing! My husbandís background in distribution
and sales, gives him a great ability of keeping track of
everything in Excel files...everything! Do I want to learn that
skill? No. But perhaps I could convince him to set up some
charts for me that he would
lovingly maintain. He already tracks his soap and ingredient
inventories, as well as monthly and yearly sales....of soap. I
tend to lean towards a more, letís say, intuitive method for the
rest of the products.
Q: What are the
biggest rewards of being an herb business?
Of course, working with plants in every aspect is very exciting
and rewarding to me. Discovering a huge stand of yarrow,
harvesting buckets of elderberries or collecting damask rose
petals with students is an incredible gift. Just sharing my
passion for herbs and seeing that enthusiasm being reflected
back at me on the faces of my students is a huge reward.
One of the best, really. I also thoroughly enjoy the creative
side of formulating and designing the label as well as designing
beautiful handouts for my classes. That desire for beauty and
art never really left, even though I never finished my degree. I
enjoy that part a lot. Using plants that are tended
with caring hands and harvested with gratefulness makes a
product that is vibrant and full of benefit. My customers see
they come back and tell me how well something has worked for
them or how much it was enjoyed as a gift, it is an enormous
Q: What is your
philosophy of customer service?
If you are going to be involved in any kind of retail venture,
customer service must reign supreme second only to the quality
of your products. I was fortunate enough to learn that valuable
lesson from my former employer Terry at Kimberton Whole Foods.
is surrounded by national chains like Whole Foods and Trader
Joes, yet, he has survived and thrived because of the incredible
customer service ethic he imparts. A genuine smile, extra time
taken, samples shared, education provided, a minute or two of
listening is what all of us are looking for when we shop
or go about the daily grind of errands. If I am in the
marketplace selling high quality therapeutic herbal products, my
demeanor and helpfulness better be of equally high therapeutic
quality, donít you think? That
is the standard I try to hold myself to.
Q: What makes you
stand out from your competitors? I really feel strongly
about each village having their own herbalist. I really never
had intentions of attracting business from far away places, so
the idea of competitors, for me, hasnít really come into play.
much prefer to talk face to face with my customers or students,
fill product orders that have come by word of mouth, or see
someone walking towards me at the market stand with an empty
container and a smile on their face. There is more than enough
work, I feel, to keep me very busy within my own community to
even give Ďcompetitorsí a second thought. It hasnít been an
issue. As far as I know, I
am not aware of another herbalism program that provides teaching
that goes from meadows to garden to classroom to kitchen in this
area. It provides women enough informative study and hands- on
work in 10 months to enrich their herb knowledge for many
to come. Yet it is not so intense commitment as the Herbal
Therapeutics course that meets weekly for two years. I believe
is one of a kind in this area of Pennsylvania.
Q: What plans do you
have for your business?
Iíd love to increase my teaching area without subjecting my
home to more foot traffic. It is really lovely to have two large
kitchens and bigger teaching gardens to harvest from, but I long
for an area that is more accessible to the public that I can
close the door on at the end of the day!! That will require
grand prayers for the right situation. I intend to give a
greater push to Fauxí Joe, my brew-able coffee substitute, in a
bigger way in 2007, and believe it can stand alone as a product.
Its sales have been increasing steadily since development with
only one national advertising outlet. Iíd also like to move its
production off site to a packaging facility. My husbandís field
is in natural products distribution, so he has the head for that
kind of growth when the time comes. I have several ideas for
books, the first being a companion workbook to my course that
could possibly evolve into a correspondence or internet course.
I also plan to study more traditional healing techniques and
perhaps get back to doing consultations again one day per week.
Q: Is your family
supportive of your business? Yes of course. My kids are
older now. My daughter is a senior in college this year, my son
a junior in high school. They are less available now to help out
when I need it, but they are supportive in my decision to live
the life of an herbalist simply by asking me how much Echinacea
to take or asking for a new Bump and Bruise salve. That they
trust and believe in me and my products and share them with
friends, is a tremendous support and I value it very much. My
biggest supporter is my husband Mike. Just a few of his gifts
are his ability to dream the BIG dreams, to encourage me when I
am overwhelmed with juggling it all, to eat from a big pot of
soup for days on end without complaint, always designing the
bigger and better lavender bed
and to pick every last calendula flower until frost kills the
plant. He makes one or two batches of soap nearly every Sunday
and brews beer on the Sundays he doesnít.....and cleans
up after himself! An amazing guy!
Q: What do you wish
youíd done differently with the business?
Nothing immediately comes to mind, actually. Like I said
before, when doors opened, I just took it as an invitation to go
and I canít say that Iíve had any regrets.
Q: What do you think
people starting out should know about getting into your type of
1.Really know your stuff. People have many, many questions
about herbs and are not afraid to ask just about anything! If
know the answer, DONĒT GUESS!!! Offer to do a little
research for them and then give them resources to help them
educate themselves. This is a field where a little knowledge can
possibly be dangerous for some one who is ill-informed..
2.Start SMALL!! Small batches of ANYTHING
well-made is ALWAYS better than a well-intentioned but mediocre
itís easier to get rid of!
3.Donít forget that it takes a whole month
for soap to cure...plan well!
Q: How has the
internet helped/hurt your business?
Considering that I never even touched a computer until about
3 years ago, I will say that learning computer skills , as well
as having Maureen put up a website for me has been very helpful
indeed. Having my course description and registration on the web
has saved me an enormous amount of time and paper than sending
things out by snail mail. I fantasize about doing a newsletter
or something more in depth with the site. The possibilities are
definitely there. My time isnít right now.
Q: How long has it
taken for your website to pay off?
Oh my gosh, I honestly feel it was instantaneous. Really,a
great investment in time and very little money!! Thanks Maureen.
Q: What things have
you done to promote your website?
Not enough, I am afraid to say. I always feel thereís more I
could be offering: More articles, many more pictures, more
a reflection of my course here on the Farm. There are always
more websites to look at ....Thereís always next year. I
appreciate the patience Maureen has showed me and my learning
curve, though. It has been an interesting experience.