Plants & Farm StoriesFeb 2, 2022
12 ways we nurture the land we call home
Over the past 40 years, we’ve called the town of Williams home. It’s a special place, nestled in the hills of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon. Our founders spent a great deal of time hiking the surrounding valleys and mountains in search of herbs to responsibly wildcraft, and they biked the winding back roads in search of land to start their farm.
Since day one, we’ve been committed to doing right from the soil up — from how we harvest herbs in the wild and how we grow them on our own land to how we interact with the flora and fauna that surround us.
As we’ve grown, we’ve deepened our commitment to protecting the planet and those that call it home. Each farming practice and business decision strives to make a positive difference. We’re sharing some of the ways we work in balance with nature on our farm.
Our farm is Certified Organic
Today, we grow about 65 species of herbs on our farms, from Alfalfa to Yarrow. We are Certified Organic through Oregon Tilth. This means our farming practices respect the health and well-being of not only our land but also the entire ecosystem — without the use of harmful chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Fall 2018 interns and our farm crew harvest Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers on our Certified Organic farm, which is part of a Regenerative Organic Certification pilot program.
But we go above and beyond
On the farm, as in life, you get back what you put in. As farmers, we know that our herbs are only as good as the soil they’re grown in. We invest a great deal of time, research and energy into regenerative agriculture practices that nourish and fortify our soil. We are part of a Regenerative Organic Certification pilot program. It’s a holistic agriculture certification encompassing fairness for farmers and workers and robust requirements for soil health and land management.
We’re honored to be a part of this select group of farmers going above and beyond organic growing practices. In fact, we’re the only herbal company among the 22 in the pilot program.
We co-exist with wildlife
Our rural location means we have close encounters with wildlife, from bears and mountain lions to voles and mice. We do our best to live alongside all creatures that call our land home, respecting their habitat and their role in nature.
Arrive on the farm early in the day, and you might see a coyote standing in a field or witness a flock of turkeys pecking at breakfast. We provide nesting boxes for owls, to help reduce rodent damage in field crops. And several birds of prey will nest along our forest edges, as many of our farm's fields resemble natural meadows. Observing wildlife around the farm really helps you tune in to the ecology of the land.
Wild turkeys often roam our property, including this Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) field that has been trimmed back for winter. We do our best to share the land with wildlife.
We conserve our native forests
In Oregon and across the Pacific Northwest, clear-cut logging practices have led to increased erosion and loss of valuable habitat for both plants and animals. On our land, we don’t allow logging or take down healthy trees to create more room for our crops. Our farm is home to oak, cedar, Douglas fir and pine trees that are over 300 years old.
We do not clear trees to make space to farm or allow logging on our land. The trees, some of which are 300 years old, provide valuable habitat.
We save our own seeds
In 2010, we started actively saving and selecting our own seeds. By 2018, two-thirds of the crops we grew were started from seed collected on our own farm. Breeding multiple generations of crops on our farm helps us better understand how plants can adapt to climate change and defend themselves against pests and disease.
We grow most of our own seeds, including the ones used for these Echinacea purpurea starts that interns Ramey and Marlo are planting.
We apply water conservation techniques
With two major watersheds on our farm, we do our best to conserve water and reduce runoff. We group our field-grown herbs together based on each herb's specific water needs and growing cycle. Many perennial herbs are drought-tolerant, so we apply supplemental irrigation only when necessary.
Our regenerative farming practices and commitment to preserving topsoil also helps reduce water use. Organic soil that’s rich in organic matter can hold more water near the root zone over a longer period of time, reducing overall water use.
Our herbs come full circle, as compost
One way we organically enrich the soil is by composting excess organic matter from our farm. The marc, or pressed herb material that remains after processing, is also composted and incorporated back into our topsoil before planting.
Our herbs come full circle on the farm — the marc left over from processing becomes compost. Ty, one of our farm employees, shovels compost that will be spread on fields to nourish future crops.
We earned our Salmon-Safe certification
Salmon-Safe is a program that “works with West Coast farmers, developers and other environmentally innovative landowners to reduce watershed impacts through rigorous third-party verified certification.” The salmon that come home to spawn in Williams Creek need deep gravel beds and slow-moving waters. However, human-caused erosion from upstream development and logging have increased water flow rates, sediment runoff and overall damage to fragile spawning habitat.
In 2007, Herb Pharm received a grant and planted over 1,000 trees and shrubs along the creek banks, to keep water temperatures cool and reduce bank erosion. This grant also provided funding for us to place logs and gravel in the stream, restoring habitat for local salmon to successfully deposit their eggs.
We're an official United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary
Herb Pharm's co-founders were proud founding members of UpS, and back in 1999 we established our farm as an official UpS Botanical Sanctuary. “We believe it is time to come full circle and support the plants that support us,” they wrote about this decision.
As such, we care deeply about plant conservation and organic cultivation. Our farm is home to several at-risk North American species traditionally used in herbalism, and we focus on seed-saving and other propagation practices to help support these vulnerable plants.
Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) are among the Appalachian plants we grow for conservation purposes (not for making extracts).
We are certified as Bee-Friendly
Pollinators are vitally important members of the ecosystem, and we do our best to support and protect them. Not only do we raise honeybees (and rescue them when necessary), but we also create a habitat for native pollinators. By growing a diverse variety of flowering plants on the farm — using organic practices — we give them a safe space to breed and thrive.
Matt Dybala, our Farm Manager, keeps bees and rescues wild hives when necessary. We create habitats for pollinators, including honeybees, on the farm.
We created a Monarch Butterfly Waystation
We help the endangered monarch butterflies that pass through our farm during their annual migration. We’ve become an official Monarch Butterfly Waystation by growing Milkweed and other plants that provide habitat. We also raise butterflies from eggs, releasing them in time for the long trip south.
Mavis, one of our employees, coaxes a timid monarch butterfly onto a butterfly bush to encourage it to continue on its migratory journey.
Our interns learn about all these practices — and more
Since 1980, our Herbaculture Internship Program has offered a rigorous and intensive immersion into the cultivation and use of plants commonly found in herbalism. Students spend 12 to 15 hours a week learning from professional farmers and herbalists.
In addition to cultivating and harvesting herbs on the farm, students learn about responsible wildcrafting and forest ecology by participating in regional plant walks.
Farm Supervisor Mark Disharoon leads our spring 2018 interns on a plant walk to help them learn to identify wild plants native to southern Oregon.