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Farming as a Labor of Love

A view over the open fields of Foster Farm in Vermont.

Foster Farm Botanicals has been a valued partner of Mountain Rose Herbs since 2016. They make it easy to supply our customers with a wide array of the high-quality organically certified botanicals that people have come to expect from us season after season. In August of 2019, a few of our team members had an opportunity to visit this special farm and get to know more about its history and the inspiration behind the operation.

Our day starts early, as days do on the farm. The morning fog is still nestled among the rolling hillsides. As the morning progresses and the fog lifts, pops of color and lush foliage are revealed along the slopes in the distance. When we refocus our attention on our immediate surroundings, we notice that the place is teeming with pollinators—such a welcome sight!

This idyllic 250-acre homestead and herb farm is situated in northern Vermont, approximately an hour east of Burlington. It represents the most recent undertaking of Annie Christopher and her husband, Peter Backman, co-founders and former owners of beloved wholesome foods brand Annie’s Naturals. The land has been in Peter’s family since 1823 and was primarily utilized as both a subsistence and a dairy farm over many generations. Now, in the latest chapter of their long and productive history, this land has become the canvas upon which a beautiful masterpiece of sustainable agriculture is being created with a palette of brilliant botanicals.

The owners of Foster Farm on their land in Vermont.

It all started in 1976, when Peter and Annie met in a bar/art space in New York City—Annie was a waitress, and Peter came in as a customer. As the couple describes it, “That was it!”. They spent a few years sharing a loft in downtown SoHo, but eventually thought, “What if we went back to the farm together?”. They made the leap back to Peter’s family home, the house he grew up in. It was here that Annie’s Naturals really came to fruition, as Peter and Annie teamed up with a strong vision of a better way to produce food. They placed the administrative and product development operations on site. Many of the original paintings that now cover the walls of their living and work spaces were created for the labels of Annie’s brand products.

Annie graduated from culinary school and had a passion for the culinary arts. Together with Peters business acumen, the two laid the groundwork to thrive in the natural products industry. “He’s a numbers person,” Annie tells us. “He understands sales. I’m product development. I do the labels. We balance each other very well. It’s hard for couples to do that. You have to have very different skillsets.”

It isn’t surprising that these partners in life and work have turned their focus towards the cultivation of herbs. Herbalism is deeply valued in this region, and the farm is located just down the road from the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. It has always been Annie and Peter’s intention to turn the farm into something with a sustainable future.

The physical history and geography of the land also contributes greatly to its success as an herb operation. The period in which the fields were filled with dairy animals helped to invigorate the natural fertility and physical structure of the soils, which is crucial in organic agriculture. Approximately 40 acres of the farm are currently utilized to grow a variety of select crops, while the remaining acreage is reserved for wildlife habitat and crop rotation practices that help preserve the local ecology.

Calendula flower harvest on Foster Farm in Vermont.

During our tour of the farm, we had an opportunity to participate in the harvest of the vibrant calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers* that we purchase for our customers. Each one of these delicate flower tops is skillfully and efficiently hand plucked by the crew at just the right moment to best preserve its qualities before being dried to perfection and shipped to us.

As much as we appreciate what we see above the ground—beauty abounds on this farm—we also greatly value what is below the surface of the soil. Foster Farm Botanicals provides us with exceptional quality angelica root (Angelica archangelica)*, an aromatic botanical prized for its varied medicinal qualities.

Beyond its usefulness as an incredibly productive growing medium, the soil of this land also possesses a generous mineralization that is stunning to behold. “I think the energetics here are pretty outstanding,” Annie says with a twinkle in her eye. Looking down at the soil, you can see it sparkle in the sunlight, the result of the quartz particles suspended in this dynamic matrix. “We have this intrinsic love of the property and its rich history. I really think you can see and feel all that care in the plants we grow here and send out into the world.”

We couldn’t agree more, Annie!

 

Want to meet more of our amazing farm partners?

Check out From Farm to Bottle: The Story of Our Hops

 

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A Work of Art from the Creators of Annie's Naturals Pinterest pin for Mountain Rose Herbs

 


Topics: Our Farms

Katheryn

Written by Katheryn on November 9, 2020

Kat Crane is a Procurement Agent at Mountain Rose Herbs. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and Sustainable Agriculture from Oregon State University and is a self-proclaimed soil nerd. She grew up in the verdant Willamette Valley where she cultivated a deep appreciation for the agricultural community around her and the challenges in the food system today. She is passionate about the potential for regenerative agricultural practices and soil health to reshape the production paradigm from a harmful one to a healing one, and that passion informs the work she does for Mountain Rose Herbs. In her free time, you will find her in the kitchen learning to cook new types of cuisine, foraging mushrooms with her family, exploring new camping spots across the state, or adding to her vinyl collection.


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