For those of you who are discovering our blog for the first time, welcome!
We celebrate everyone who is helping to preserve the farm way of life. We embrace a broadened definition of today’s farmer to support everyone who is growing food, raising farm animals, or keeping bees in spaces large and small. Through the farmer’s stories we share we are always excited to show you, we hope you will feel inspired to invite a little bit (or a lot) of farm spirit into your life no matter what your age and no matter where you live.
Today, we are happy to introduce you to someone who we are proud to consider a farmer, even though she doesn’t exactly call herself one. Susan is preserving the farm way of life in many wonderful ways in the beautiful state of Maine. In her garden, Susan grows veggies and most of the herbs she uses to make the oils for her nature-infused homemade products. Shall we see what grows in Susan’s garden and have a closer look at her Gaia’s Garden Herbals skin care products?
Rural Farm Story from Maine
Susan, where do you live?
I’m in Fryeburg, ME, which is about 15 miles from where I grew up in North Conway, NH. I’m just over the NH border in Maine in what is called the Mount Washington Valley.
In a nutshell, what is the story behind your farm? And, when did life as a farmer begin for you?
I have a hard time thinking of myself as a “farmer” rather I’m a gardener (organic). I’ve always loved growing things since I was a girl and had my first flower garden. My mother had a wonderful green thumb with flowers and esp. roses. My father grew the vegetables. He grew the biggest tomatoes! I used to take the salt shaker out in the garden and pick the biggest, reddest, perfectly ripe tomato, take a bite, sprinkle salt there and suck all the juices out, warm from the sun, before eating the flesh. Mmmmm.
[Right: Harvest basket of herbs and tomatoes from Susan’s garden.]
[Below: A butterfly on a mint blossom and cosmos in bloom.]
Then my thing became herbs. I started drinking herb tea in college (in 1970), then when I moved to Vermont with my (now ex) husband I started my first veggie and herb garden. I began learning about herbs for healing in earnest after my boys were born.
Years later, when I moved here to Fryeburg (15 years ago), I put in what seemed to me a large garden (now it’s too small). My goal was to grow flowers (so I could pick my own bouquets and still leave enough for the bees), some veggies, and lots and lots of herbs. Which is exactly what I have done.
The garden is irregularly shaped, but somewhere between 650 and 1000 sq. feet. Also I grow things in pots, grow bags, and outside the garden fence. Two years ago I put in a raised bed in the back yard to grow calendula flowers for the oil I make to use in my skin care products.
For veggies I grow tomatoes (hybrid and heirloom, for eating and canning), beans (to eat and can), lots of carrots, garlic, lots of green of various sorts, leeks, celery, various basils, perennials & flowers, and about 40 different herbs, culinary and healing, perennials and annuals.
I start most of my seeds under lights in my office, and then move them to a very basic hoop house to harden off before planting. I also start all my flower seeds for the pots and hangers around the house.
Some of the herbs I grow include: oregano, thymes, tulsi, majoram, tarragon, lots of mints, monarda, angelica, lovage, lavender, sages, elecampagne, sweet Annie, lady’s mantle, chives, hyssop, St. John’s wort (wherever it comes up), mullein (wherever it comes up), catnip, echinacea, comfrey, calendula, rosemary, valerian, rue, and more. I also wild harvest from the woods and fields nearby.
Who or what influenced you to grow a garden?
It’s in my blood I think. From my mother and father, to my maternal grandfather who came over from Greece. I remember visiting him when I was young (he died when I was 6), and loving hanging out with him in his wonderful garden where he grew lots of vegetables and had grape arbors. And being “a child of the 60s” there was the whole “back to the land” culture that I was a part of too.
What do you enjoy most about gardening?
I love everything about it. Planting seeds, waiting and watching as they sprout and grow.
[In the photo to the right a bee sips nectar from Echinacea also commonly known as coneflower.]
I love the worms! Where I live in Maine our soil is basically beach sand. So I had to add lots and lots of organic material. There were very few worms at first. I’ll never forget first spring that the worms really came in. I was setting out the tomatoes, barefoot and I felt all these squiggling things on my feet. I looked down and there were literally hundreds of tiny baby worms. It was amazing! I don’t enjoy worrying about the weather, especially about heavy downpours that come more often now, and day after day of gray and rain in June when we really need sun and warmth. But I have learned that nature is more resilient than I am, and generally things work out. (Fingers crossed) I do stress about the future re: climate change. Our environmental crisis saddens me.
Homemade Products by Susan
What products do you currently offer?
I offer a nice variety of herbal skin care products: creams, salves, toner sprays, lip balms, powders. I also make tinctures and elixirs though they are not offered to the general public (my kitchen isn’t approved to sell things that one consumes).
What do you enjoy most about creating (or growing) these products to offer to others?
I love the magic involved in sun-infusing my herbs and flowers in extra virgin olive oil.
I love the fact that in order to do what I do I have to be outside, digging in the dirt, hanging out with bees and worms, picking flowers, digging roots. It’s like playing. Though now that I’m 60 I do have to have help to do some of the heaviest work. But once the garden is in, I’m in heaven! I also love creating labels for my products, and sharing them with people. I love it when they love my products too!
We encourage others to embrace time-honored traditions, old-fashioned skills and also celebrate the modern arts and contemporary craft movement. What arts, crafts, skills and traditions do you enjoy practicing (or teaching) today or aspire to learn?
I do some canning and drying of vegetables and, of course, herbs. But generally it’s just making my creams, salves, blending teas, listening to the plants, learning new things and trying new things. For instance, this year my focus was on goldenrod. My intuition says that infused in oil, goldenrod is our (New England’s) arnica. There’s always something new to learn and share!
[Field of Goldenrod in back of Susan’s House]
Do you currently offer any classes or workshops?
I offer workshops on herbal skin care and medicine making. These are hands-on workshops where people actually make stuff. I’m not certified to diagnose or prescribe anything but I can guide people to their own solutions, and, most important in my opinion, encourage curiosity and the desire to get out there and learn what’s growing around us.
Where can people find you online?
Right now I just have a few products available through Poppy Swap. My products are available in some local stores and through me directly. People can contact me through email and I can send more info (email@example.com). Gaia’s Garden Herbals also has a Facebook page.
— Susan of Gaia’s Garden Herbals
Thank you Susan for taking time to share your personal story and beautiful photos of your garden and homemade herbal skin care products with the community of farmers and friends! We are grateful your efforts to preserve the farm spirit in Maine. We hope to see you on our website in the days ahead!