I’m always fascinated to learn how people come to be involved with herbs. I like hearing people’s stories about their work and how they came to do what they love in life.
I was on a bus tour with people attending an International Herb Association conference some years ago when I reconnected with a woman from Iowa I’d met the year before. I knew a bit about Jane Hogue’s herb farm, Prairie Pedlar, and about her dream of bringing herbal education and products to her local community. After visiting a bit with Jane, I asked her husband, Jack about his change of career from hog farmer to herb supplier.
I vividly remember Jack’s response. He paused before he answered, looking a bit embarrassed, and said, “Well, I guess I have a confession to make in front of my wife,” and he turned and grinned at her.
Jack related how he always makes an effort to be supportive of Jane’s ideas and, as a family, they plan to do almost everything together. He told about how enthused Jane had been the year before when she returned from the herb conference.
“But it looked like things that I had no part nor interest in,” he said. The following year, Jane urged him to come with her to the conference.
“I griped and groaned all the way across the country as I drove us toward the conference,” he said. “I complained I had corn and livestock to tend, how important the work at home was and how I just didn’t have time for such foolishness as an herb conference.”
Jane was sitting beside Jack, grinning. I soon learned that Jack found many interesting people involved in the conference. Those with small businesses were willing to share their ideas, their sources and most especially, their enthusiasm.
“I soon realized,” Jack said, “that this wasn’t just an idea of Jane’s and it wasn’t just a woman’s world. We’re not the only herb business in the middle of a rural area. There are hundreds of others doing what we do: struggling to make it work, balancing a dream on the one hand and the need to make a living on the other.”
Jack and Jane went home from that year’s conference and, as he described it, “Threw ourselves full steam into making an herb farm that we would be proud of.”
Jack looked at the enormous barn loft that was no longer useful on their farm and decided it would make a great place for herb drying. Soon he and his son, Tyler, had built drying racks attached to ropes, where the decorative flowers they grew could be dried for sale.
Their daughters both helped as well. Janna increased their plantings of decorative herbs by about half an acre, and Emily added classes and workshops using many of the plants the family grows.
Jack said that growing herbs, building greenhouses and making facilities for workshops became a pleasant experience. He found more satisfaction from seeing customers happy than he had simply raising hogs — not that he was giving up hogs, but he was finding more and more joy in the herb business.
Soon the Hogues acquired a farm next to them with another barn on it and land for new gardens. With the help of their three children and other family members, the new location became an herbal wonderland.
There are theme gardens with hundreds of herb varieties, a Maypole and an old schoolhouse for workshops. Jack’s drying barn is so efficient that the family turns out large volumes of dried herbs, decorations and various other herbal products. They’ve added a greenhouse for starting herb plants in the spring, and the Hogues offer festivals, weekend workshops, dinners in the garden and many other educational activities throughout the year.
Jack ended his story by saying, “Once I saw how much people enjoyed our gardens, how excited kids get when they come to learn about butterflies or how much they enjoy the other projects Jane does, I was hooked. Hogs just aren’t as much fun as herb customers,” he said with a laugh. Then he turned to Jane and said, “Thank you for dragging me to that first conference. You were right all along.
Jim Long’s gardens and recipes can be viewed at www.Longcreekherbs.com.