We have applied for a grant from Chase bank for small businesses like ours. If we get 250 votes, our application will be forwarded the judges for consideration. It would be great if everybody who read this blog post went to the contest link and voted for us. The essay is good to read just to get an idea of who we are and what we do here. Here is our application essay.
Willows Bend Farm is a gem with many facets. It is an interactive place where people come as customers and leave as friends. Education is foremost in both the Nursery and Emporium, encouraging people to take charge of their health and wellness.
On the farm side, we strive to preserve biodiversity and provide food security by teaching people how to grow and save seeds from heirloom and open pollinated plants using sustainable farming practices. We study and teach the principals of permaculture and apply them to integrate the native ecosystem with our own. We raise plants that encourage beneficial insects, vegetables and fruits, chickens and turkeys and sometimes heritage breed pigs. Every year we make sure to include produce listed in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Our customers come out of their way for a huge selection of heirloom tomato plants, choosing from over 20 varieties each year. We also grow to order for other farms seeking high quality plants grown chemical free. During our seven years in business, our loyal repeat customers spread the word ensuring new customers each year, many bringing children to the farm to understand the connection between the farmer and their food source.
Re-entering the work force is difficult for a woman nearing 50, so I decided to follow my mother’s footsteps and grow plants for sale. My mother inspired me by creating beautiful gardens and a thriving greenhouse business out of a hayfield. She managed the business for 30 years before retiring and even 20 years later people still ask for her flowers.
My first year, I started seeds under grow lights in a shed and grew them on in straw bale cold frames. Needing more room, we found a greenhouse for sale, spent two days dismantling the 100 foot structure, and with the help of family and friends, rebuilt it. People took notice and our customer base grew.
Next, I put my experience with herbs and essential oils to work selling culinary herbs and spices, teas, and offer one of the largest collections of medicinal herbs in the Richmond area. I do aromatherapy consultations to create custom therapeutic oil blends and other aromatherapy products. Our biggest challenge has been marketing, both labeling and advertising. Folks who come here say that Willows Bend Farm is the best-kept secret in Dinwiddie. Of course we don't want to keep it a secret!
Willows Bend Farm encourages volunteers to learn about farm life, working in exchange for plants, produce and the therapeutic experience. Interns stay on the property for immersion courses in herbalism, aromatherapy and plant propagation some of which we offer to the public.
We sell locally sourced herbs in our Emporium whenever we can. Providing an outlet for backyard farmers who may not have enough to bring to market, we combine their produce with our own to sell here at the farm and through our Midweek Mobile Market which will stop at local businesses, campgrounds and mobile home parks where folks often don’t have access to fresh local food.
Our convenient location, just a half mile off Interstate 85, also serves as a conduit for other producers to get their goods to market. Direct market distributors pick up produce and value added products here, enabling farmers in remote locations to participate in their programs. We also started a network of farmers and artisans promoting each others goods and services, while providing a link between farmers needing occasional help and day laborers. Willows Bend Farm is always pleased to support local charity fundraising through the donation of plants.
$100,000 in grant money would expedite the next project for Willows Bend Farm. As soon as we are able, we want to build a commercial kitchen for the farm. A commercial kitchen would allow us to turn our produce into value added products. Jams, jellies, pickles, ferments, bread, cheese, salsas, spaghetti sauce and more are all in high demand but cannot be sold without being produced in an inspected kitchen. Many farmers can’t get certification in their own kitchens because animals share the living spaces. A commercial kitchen, conveniently located, could be rented out by the hour for farmers and gardeners to make their own value added products for market or for their own pantries. Willows Bend Farm would also provide low cost lessons and workshops on food preparation, canning, bread baking, and offer free cooking lessons and menu planning for SNAP recipients.
Our short-term goals continue to engage the community through agritourism and education. We want to offer more workshops and classes for adults, and hope to provide a destination for field trips working with the Virginia Standards of Learning to provide educational modules for public, private and home schooled children. Recognizing the therapeutic benefits of farming/gardening, we would like to work with veterans groups and other special needs groups to provide therapeutic learning environments.
On the farming side, we want to grow our own herbs on a larger scale and include mushroom growing in our cash crops. Local mushroom growers can’t keep up with the demand. Aquaculture is also of interest and a naturally filtered stocked pond is in our long-term goals. Growing sprouts for market and restaurants is also promising to be profitable. We have a grain mill, and hope to buy locally produced, non-genetically modified grain, to fulfill the demand for freshly ground flour.
A $100,000 grant would provide the capital needed for the construction of a commercial kitchen that would provide the community with a much-needed resource to enable farmers to bring value added products to market and create a platform for education in the community.