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Farm at Coventry

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  Apollo Herbs BlackKat Herbs   Farm at Coventry Healing Herbs Herb's Herbs  
  La Paix Herb Farm Long Creek Herbs Papa Geno's Dorothy Biddle Services Wintergreen Herbs Alloway Creek  
Chrysalis Herbs Herbs of the World The Herb Barn Karen's Botanicals

Herb 'N Ewe



Farm at Coventry
  Sue Hess


Founded:  1997

  Pottstown PA

 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 therapeutic 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 that there had to be something better for me to know as a mother and a caregiver than dragging them to the doctor every time, feeling helpless 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 and 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 that. When 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 reward.

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. His store 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.  I 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 seasons to come. Yet it is not so intense commitment as the Herbal Therapeutics course that meets weekly for two years. I believe my course 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 on through 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 business?
1.Really know your stuff. People have many, many questions about herbs and are not afraid to ask just about anything! If you donít 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 huge batch.....and 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 recipes....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.


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