March 22, 2019
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Some of you haven’t heard from me in a while. I keep putting the newsletter on my “To Do” list, yet somehow it just doesn’t get done. It’s at the top of my list today! Thanks for sticking with me.
So guess what? We are celebrating our 10th anniversary of the opening of Willows Bend Farm! Yes, 10 years have gone by, hard to believe. As I look back over where we started and what we have accomplished and the friends we have made along the way, I can’t help but smile. There is still much to do to make Willows Bend Farm the destination that I envision, but we will get there.
In 2009 I started growing plants in the little feed shed using my mother’s old grow lights she used back in the 1970’s when she had her plant shop business and greenhouses. Those galvanized shelves still stand in my greenhouse, though the lights no longer work. They will probably be pressed into service later this year to grow micro greens. But in 2009, that is where I started all my seeds. When they were big enough to transplant, they were moved to straw bale cold frames that topped with old storm window frames that Sandy covered with plastic. On super cold nights we filled gallon jugs with water and tucked them in among the plants to stabilize the temperature and covered the top with old blankets. It was crude, but it worked! When the plants were ready, we set up a tent and a few straw bale benches, went to town and got my business license and sold our first heirloom tomato plants.
A year later we were searching for a greenhouse. We found one for sale in North Carolina; one hundred feet of abandoned galvanized hoops, benches and cinder blocks. With the help of our friends, Mike and Robbie, we dismantled that greenhouse bolt by bolt, stacked it on pallets and had it trucked here. It took us two days to take it apart, but several months to put back together! We put up 80 feet and saved the other 4 hoops for what later became our high tunnel.
I think it was that year that we got in close to a thousand cuttings and had all hands, including my daughter Lizz and her future husband, Austin, planting sometimes minascule tips into trays. Most of them lived! We continued to expand our heirloom tomato selection and focused on growing flowers for pollinators and hummingbirds as well as open pollinated vegetable plants, encouraging people to save seeds.
Fast forward a couple of years and my back was starting to give me problems. It is hard work running a greenhouse and working the gardens! I decided to branch out and also give us some income year round, so we fixed up and painted a room in our house to sell herbs.
A year after the herb shop opened, I began selling essential oils and blending them purposefully. My first really helpful oil blend is still our best seller. Joint Relief was made for someone who was in favor of postponing the knee replacement that his doctor had advised. The oil worked remarkably well. The man bought several bottles. By this time my degenerative disc disease in my back was severe. I was walking with a cane and regularly taking muscle relaxers and pain killers. I started using the Joint Relief too and my pain diminished to the point where I could ditch the cane and the drugs! I was hooked on making essential oil blends and herbal teas that could help people heal.
It soon began to get pretty crowded in that little room. It could only hold about three people! Some of you remember the herbs stacked two high and three deep on shelves to the ceiling. My apprentice, Jessica and I were bumping elbows making teas and oils. I approached the idea of renting a store front, but Sandy said he would build me a shop. I was elated!
So began the long process of getting the permits and the septic system, and the ground work that all had to be done before putting up the building. The Robert Hoyle Contracting company, right here in Dinwiddie, did a great job leveling the ground and pouring the slab and footings. We decided on a steel arch building to maximize space. It took several people raise those arches. Some of the people who helped us volunteered for the day. John, Joshua and Sandy worked the inside and Austin did some plumbing and our 30 x 30 building was completed in March of 2018. The building houses a 20 foot wall of herbs, a table for classes, my research library, the essential oils and other aromatherapy products and a certified kitchen.
The kitchen opened in July of this year and we sell breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as prepare special orders. Most food orders are to go, but we do have a few people that come in to eat on a regular basis and we deliver to the courthouse area so folks at the administration building often order lunch. We serve fresh, quality food, locally sourced whenever possible.
I have a new apprentice now, Amber. She helps me in the kitchen and making teas and aromatherapy blends. Sandy delivers food, is the all-around handyman, you will find him in the farmer’s market booths, and he has become knowledgeable enough of herbs and oils to handle many customer concerns. Sandy is also the expert to consult for our CBD oil products. Mike helps with cleanup and is planning on growing micro greens and tending the backyard gardens and animals. Even with their great help, I could use a bunch more people to keep Willows Bend Farm growing. Over the years we have had some awesome help from volunteers and interns. Billy built many of the raised beds and helped construct the high tunnel. Jessica was my apprentice like a daughter to me. Sara helped get the kitchen going. We appreciate so much the support of our customer friends who purchase from us, spread the word, and lend a hand.
To continue to keep Willows Bend Farm going and growing, we are always looking for people to barter their time for any of our products or services. We need kitchen help, tea makers, oil blenders, customer service, marketing and computer work, administrative assistant, greenhouse workers, groundskeepers…pretty much everything! Please consider exchanging your time for knowledge, experience, plants, produce, herbs, essential oils, aromatherapy products, classes, or delicious home cooked meals.
Mark your calendars for our Celebrate Spring Day on April 13th, 2019. Come for the fun!
With sincere appreciation,
Alisa and Sandy Strunk