Linda Shanahan, Proprietor of Barefoot Gardens a small scale community-centered farm based upon biodynamic and organic farming methods. Linda’s work as a Registered Nurse combined with her training in traditional herbal practice and herb production also led to the start of Barefoot Botanicals which specializes in medicinal and culinary herb production as well as farm based herbal education.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ll start with how I got into herbs, I moved to Oregon after college in 1995 after I got a job, and as much as I loved Oregon, I felt a little disconnected from where I was from. I was looking for a way to connect from the place, it was so different ecologically, just a completely different environment to be in from Pennsylvania. I wanted to learn more about the plants that were around me to connect and I found an herbalist in Eugene, OR. Howie Brounstein and started learning about native plants in the Pacific Northwest. Colette Gardiner and Heather Thompson, and ultimately moved back to PA to be near my family and got married to my husband who I met in OR.
And we started a farm again because we felt kind of disconnected, felt that we’d lost so much of what we learned and loved about OR so we tried to recreate that here, that is living in a way which is a little more environmentally sound with high quality food and all the things you want to do to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We found in order to do that we kinda needed to create that community around us ourselves so that’s how we started the farm and ultimately I introduced herbs a little bit more and more into the farm. I got my nursing degree to learn more about the human body, and be more herbal focused but with and understanding of western medicine. I also studied with David Winston who’s’ an herbalist in New Jersey, so I kept studying and learning, and as I was learning figuring how to be a farmer, which is a little bit crazy. So neither one of us had apprenticed with anyone, so we kind of apprenticed with ourselves.
That brings us up to date, aside from my little forays into teaching the community a little bit more about herbs and how to use them, we bring them out to the farm now where I teach them about what I have learned.
I went to college in PA at Temple University and got a position with Americorps program which is like a domestic Peace Corps, but it’s only a one year commitment. So I moved to Oregon for that position. Then I explored different things and different ways of living, and I actually didn’t stay in the field that I studied, I was a social worker and did that for several years, but I wanted to be more clinically focused, so that’s where I decided to go into nursing.
My husband’s from Michigan.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I guess my first experience would be hanging out with my dad in the garden. My dad grew up farming, They had a 5 acre farmette, with a cow, and a couple of pigs, and they grew corn, and they grew vegetables. My dad always in our little suburban plot, I grew up outside of Philadelphia and he would grow tomatoes and lettuce, and I would just eat, I would go back there and harvest, my first memory of the garden I remember bringing my parents breakfast in bed, I must have been 4 and it was a plate of cherry tomatoes.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
I think it’s easier in some ways to be more earth friendly as a gardener then as a farmer, particularly the way we do farming in this country, it’s not regenerative it takes away from the site, even organically, with gardening you’re not turning the soil over. It’s a regenerative practice.
Ultimately we’ll be able to achieve that on our farm. Things like cover crops and move towards some organic no-till practices so we’re not turning the soil over and over again. It’s a regenerative practice so you’re just adding to the soil.
Cover crop – more and more believing in cover crops and went to a lecture with a Penn State PhD student who said you can get so many more pounds per acre into the mix by growing cover crops. Some organic farms were too high in certain things because they are adding too much compost material. So just adding seed is better then growing straw in some cases.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
Probably more growing up in PA living around Philly I wasn’t exposed to anything organic. My father grew up farming on area farms that were very conventional, we were diving around in the silos in corn that wasn’t grown organically. When I got older and lived in Oregon, and realizing that some of the things I was experiencing like headaches may have been cause by some of the chemicals I was exposed to.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
One of the teachers that I had, Colette Gardiner was a big gardener and she would take us out to her herb gardens and we would learn a little bit about her techniques and methods.
I didn’t learn much till my last year in Oregon. My husband was driven to garden so we turned our home into a garden and we had chickens and tons of beets and carrots, and when we moved back to PA, we lease 18 acres. Went from a 10th of an acre, started on just 3½ acres and started very small with just a CSA model, went to different conferences especially the Pennsylvania Association Sustainable Agriculture which has a great conference every February. Went even before we had a farm, and we were welcome there before we even started.
Going to other people’s farms was probably the most advantageous thing you can do before starting out …
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
One is herb and one is a flower. We started a couple of years ago buying ginger rhizomes named biker dude, in Hawaii, we were in N Carolina a couple of years ago, and we were like wow we can grow ginger, last year we dedicated half of our production houses to ginger production. And it was incredible. We harvested about 40lbs every week and we would bring it to the farmers market
made ginger marmalade and it so incredible.
need a long marmalade season, and we grew it under hoops, started it like a month ago in trays and we’re transferring it out, some people grow them in bags, filled with a mix of soil and coconut fiber? I know there’s different ways
Dahlia’s I’ve been getting more and more requests from farmers market customers
An additional thing we could provide
cut and come again, as long as you can plant 2-3 times.
been ramping up our production, something I was always curious about but thought they were expensive, found an organic supplier in VA, and I thought I’m gonna spring for it, planted 25 feet of each one. Amazed how many flowers I harvested off those 2 – 50 foot plots
People were coming back for more, over the winter thought about
This spring they all coming up, overwintered in our unheated hoop house,
I have a lot of dahlias.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
I want to plant more perennials, tilling and harvesting and tilling and harvesting is not a sustainable way to grow, but after being exposed to more permaculture
today planted elderberries, about 85 plants,
want to plant more of my herbal
investing now in future harvest, I feel as though I should have done this before.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
I grow a whole bunch of different things, one of the first things I teach students to grow is calendula, covered in beautiful yellow and orange flowers, that can be harvested that are edible but don’t taste that great but you can harvest to make ointments and salves for your skin, that are healing topically and you can also make tinctures, preserve them that way, can take internally nice for gastrointestinal issues that require healing for the gut. Calendula is healing to skin and GI track, leaky gut, people who are suffering from this for a variety of reasons, and calendula help heal the gut. Also helps with lymphatic problems. Makes you engage with your garden because if you don’t harvest they will stop producing. You can grow 3-4 plants maybe 5 to have enough flowers have to go harvest every other day or so, or your plants will not produce.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
Well one thing that I do grow every year that requires treatment, when you stratify seeds you have to subject them to cold or hot, or scarification to physically break open the coat, either sandpaper or a cast iron pan, sometimes it’s a little harder then when you have to open the seed.
Hibiscus , lavender and echinacea or anything that requires pre-treatment.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I like to harvest roots, I like to see what’s in the soil. At the end of the season I harvest Valerian, can be used to help people who have a problem with sleeping.
Then in the fall it’s very aromatic, then when I clean off the roots, that are clean white roots that are glistening. I love the aromatic part of harvesting.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
My most favorite thing I grew was a variety of corn that was called Floriani Red Flint. Typically grown to make into polenta.
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
“Plants just want to grow.” It’s ok, they just want to grow. Most times they will pull through.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
I love my little hand hoe, I use a little hand hoe, I tend to be a little more hands on, even Dewitt Hand hoe.
Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
Have enough people helping. There’s always stuff we don’t get done, every day, or didn’t get harvested in time for market, ex is the asparagus, starting to flower. if you don’t stay on top of it it doesn’t keep producing, calendula is an example, I have to set aside 2 hours every other day to harvest, and just have it ritualized into the daily routine.
Every night or every other night
The best fertilizer is a farmers footsteps.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Decided to make an investment for our farm and bought a shipping container that we made into a drying unit, and outfitted it with fans, and …
and had a carpenter friend help us
Harvest tons of product and then preserves
Grow chamomile, and the holy basil, oats and harvest in the milky stage, lemon balm, for culinary or medicinal pleasure tea those nice gentle teas,
Oldest market in the state is about an hour in Eaton, Philly .
Farmer’s Market movement is pretty big here.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
Golden Milk: Turmeric, which is a common ingredient in curries.
I like to drink it as a milk based drink, sauté a little bit of yee, and then some cardamon, and then add turmeric, then add milk, then maybe add a little maple syrup for sweetness.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Basically I roast, husband wanted a grill. And roasting vegetables on the grill. Making pesto.
A favorite internet resource?
For herbal info, Henriette’s herbal – blog powerhouse Henrietta Kress for herbal info
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Orion, periodical, literary environmental, philosophical magazine. Like to look at the amazing photography, read the poetry, read the philosophical approach to the environment.
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
My husband says all the time “Small steps, small mistakes, big steps, big mistakes.” Don’t’ go crazy.
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
I guess a local issue that is reflective of the global issue in PA is fracking.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
I guess the biggest thing for me is the garden is a way for me to connect with the energies of the greater envionrment around me, the changing temperature, the humidity, maybe subconsciously,
develops a more spiritual connection to the earth around you. Like a spiritual practice.
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