The Story of Small Farm Tea Bags part 1

The Story of Small Farm Tea Bags part 1

It starts with a plan

I remember sitting in a business planning class at the local SBDC when the instructor was talking about the ‘cost of getting a new product to market’. She was describing this enormous, burdensome cost and how to evaluate if it was the right move for your small business at the time. And I was just thinking, what the heck is she talking about? You mean the cost of…blending up one of my favorite herbal recipes, slapping some homemade labels on it and showing up at a craft fair the next day? Not exactly high stakes! 

That was back in 2014, and needless to say the learning curve has been STEEP at times since I began building this small business! I really came into it as a farmer with a love of herbs. When I first started, I was using wild plants from the farms where I worked (or from my mom’s backyard!), making tiny batches of tinctures or teas in my kitchen, and setting up at a few local craft fairs per year. It was a fun side hustle, but when I decided to try and start a farm and make it my full time gig, my perspective shifted.

But also, Always Be Adjusting

I’ve spent the past few years really working hard on the scale of this business. Keeping things small when they need to be small, and scaling up a bit where it makes sense for us at the time. It’s always in flux, and Ben and I are constantly assessing our decisions against our values and goals for this farm. We followed a holistic farm planning process and developed a list of 22 values that are the most important to us. If some piece of equipment doesn’t fit into that list, then we simply don’t add it - no matter how much “easier” it might make our lives!

This has led us to become a “vertically integrated” herbal tea farm, which means we keep the supply chain almost entirely within our own farm and business model. We grow all our herbs, process them on site, create recipes, and package all our products. Plus we market our goods directly to our customers as well as supply small wholesale accounts. There’s at least 5 different businesses all tied up into one there! As we’ve grown the business each year, maintaining all those very different enterprises has honestly been quite trying. We started asking questions: which product processes could be improved? Where should we focus our energy? When should we take the plunge and mechanize? 

Inspiration strikes

With all that business-y stuff happening in the background, turning to the plants is my sanctuary. Hanging out in the greenhouse in early spring or napping in the hammock by our fields, maybe bringing some fresh plants inside with me to make a fresh pot of tea. These moments are often the basis of inspiration for our blends - just that simple magic that happens when you let go and listen to the plants.

It starts with a seed / Agriculture time

I remember hearing a fellow farmer express how slow farming is - you only get one shot a year, so after a decade, you’ve really only had 10 tries.

Since we grow all of our crops, adding a new blend takes at LEAST as long as it takes for the herb crop to reach full maturity after planting. This is something many businesses don’t have to deal with - just order some cheap herbs on amazon! - and poof, they are there in 2 days. But growing our herbs is my joy, and it’s what makes our teas really stand out in flavor and quality. This is the pace of agriculture, not the pace of the current late stage capitalist market - and that’s just fine with me. 

Some perennial plants may take a few years to mature to harvest stage, but even the annuals can take careful planning and a few years to really develop systems and get a good, healthy, high quality crop. We have spent years developing our herb harvest and drying systems to catch all our crops at peak potency and dry them carefully to retain all the medicinal and delicious benefits. Of course, we still mess up sometimes, and we’re always trying new things to improve our systems.

Now we have a magical recipe and herbs that we cared for since they were babies. How do we get them to you?? Go to part 2!