There's a farm an hour out of Columbus that grows herbs and mushrooms on a defunct tree farm. I read an article in Edible Columbus about it just after inoculating two dozen logs with mycelium and knew that I had to find a way to visit the dreamy sounding place. When I talked to Janell of the Blue Owl Garden Emporium she said I could do a work share at the farm-- AND GET PAID IN HERBS. IN HERBS.
Last Tuesday Brad and I pulled up to a tiny white house tucked into the woods at the end of a dirt road. We were noisily welcomed by the farm's dog and a haughty-looking rooster guarding his queens. I wandered around, not sure if Janell was out back working or in the house. Actually, I couldn't even tell if the attractive but very old house was even inhabitable. I was considering whether the house was an abandoned building on the property when Janell opened the door and warmly beckoned us inside her magical front room/herb storage and drying center.
There were baker's racks filled with screens of drying herbs, hundreds of filled jars, a table covered with seed packets and nowhere really to sit. I was in heaven, obviously. The first thing Janell wanted us do was harvest the green tips of her spruce trees (Picea). When I asked what benefits spruce provides Janell started a non-stop flow of wonderful information that went on for the next 6 hours, beginning with a description of how the Amish infuse honey with spruce tips to make a vitamin-C rich cough syrup. Armed with a basket I started pinching the bright, tart-candy tips off, popping one in my mouth every few minutes.
Janell joined us, happily answering questions about how she came to run an herb farm and pointing out all of the medicinals and edibles around us when I expressed interest in learning.
After exploring the woods, talking about the importance of stewardship, gathering nettles and discussing fermentation over lunch, Janell led us down the road to the herb farm part of her operation.
We seeded and weeded and weeded, pulling out bagfuls of sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) which I cooked for dinner for a few nights. I also scored a couple errant catnip (Nepata cataria) and arabian mint (Mentha longifolia) plants. Before we left Janell kindly walked us around the farm, pointing at whatever she happened across and asking if we wanted some more herbs. Yes. The answer is always yes.