By Lynn Byczynski
Part retail nursery, part gift shop, part classroom, the herb farm has become one of the most popular types of agri-tourism destinations. Customers are willing to drive long distances to visit a farm where they can walk through display gardens, have a cup of tea and a scone, or take a class.
To many customers, the name "herb farm" suggests an educational experience that goes beyond shopping. "Herbs" is a category that includes a vast number of plants, giving the farm a great deal of latitude in the kinds of activities that can fit under the herbal umbrella. Here's a sampling of some common themes found at successful herb farms:
Display gardens are an important component because they show people the many ways that herbs can be used in the garden. The display gardens can be divided by themes: kitchen garden, healing garden, scented garden, butterfly garden, moon garden (all white plants), sunshine garden (all yellow), and so on. Although display gardens themselves are not revenue producers, they can drive sales if plants are clearly labeled and available for sale nearby.
A retail greenhouse should offer a wide selection of plants that are labeled with their herbal properties. The more information, the better. Plants become so much more interesting when they have a story behind them.
A full line of vegetable transplants, especially heirloom varieties, in season. Organic transplants of both vegetables and herbs will have a marketing advantage at an herb farm because gardeners know to grow herbs organically, since they will be eating the leaves.
A tea room or restaurant is a logical extension for farms with the space, talents, and interest in food service. Herb farm eateries run the gamut from tea-and-scones on a patio to full-fledged restaurants with nine-course menus of local food costing $200 per person. Menu items should feature herbs in the description, of course. A few examples found on herb farm menus: lavender shortbread; parsley-lovage sauce; chervil-chive butter; rose geranium ice cream; rosemary-thyme chicken salad.
Lectures and workshops on a wide range of topics about gardening, cooking, crafts, and natural health. Some farms host free classes by local authors or chefs as a way to get customers out to the farm; others charge for workshops that result in a product for the customer to take home such as a wreath, an herb container garden, a selection of herbal teas, a garlic braid, and similar crafty items.
A gift shop with farm-made or purchased products. Again, the breadth of the herb category offers a huge range of possibilities, including food items, body products, candles, books, cut or potted flowers, gardening tools and accessories, decorative and seasonal items.
Events such as weddings and retreats can be a profitable sideline for a destination farm with a suitable building or great scenery.
Running an herb farm requires horticultural knowledge, an interest in retail, and marketing skills. A beautiful location, well-kept grounds, and proximity to a city are also important components. Growers who are attracted to the idea should do an internet search for "herb farm" and start exploring the hundreds of websites that provide a glimpse into this interesting and potentially profitable farm business.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.