Free Verse Farm and Apothecary, in Chelsea, VT, is aptly named.
“When you give something a name, you give it a soul,” says Taylor Katz, a poet/farmer, who with her husband Misha Johnson, a photographer/herbalist/farmer, bought their 38 acres in 2014, got married on it and promptly got to work making it into their own little free form paradise.
In naming their farm, “Free Verse” the couple have literally and figuratively given themselves carte blanche to blossom in many, many ways. Their impressive, easily navigable website, designed and created by them, is all about their specialties: farm-grown and handcrafted teas, culinary herbs, bulk and wholesale herbs, herbal remedies and body care products. Really though, that’s only the half of it.
They handcraft their preparations in small batches right in their farmhouse apothecary, sourcing as many herbs as possible directly from their farm because they have found that they can almost always produce superior, and fresher, ingredients than if they source them elsewhere.
A good example of this is the eucalyptus. Yeah, the stuff that usually grows in Australia, is flourishing in their high tunnel greenhouse! They plan to use it in an herbal steam blend.
Working with what nature has to offer is also important at Free Verse. They have found, for instance, that the native yarrow that grows on their land produces a better product than other varieties of the plant that they have experimented with cultivating. Misha’s long-term forest medicinals project is another great example of partnering with nature. He is cultivating goldenseal, ginseng and black and blue cohosh in their woods to use in their herbal remedies.
“It’s a seven to ten-year project,” he says with a patient smile.
Their CSA, which stands for Community Supported Apothecary, supplies about 30 tea and apothecary shareholders with seasonal blends of all sorts. Being artists, Taylor and Misha cannot help themselves but include “a small work of art/treasure” in each share, as if the artistry that happens in the field and apothecary aren’t enough.
They also have an extensive online store and you can find their products in retail stores, farm stands and cafes all over the Northeast, including here at the SoRo Market. They sell at some local farmers’ markets too.
Free Verse Studio offers marketing and copywriting services, design support, web design and maintenance, online course creation and more. Taylor says that currently, the Studio is the piece that brings in the most money for the farm.
“Diversity provides resiliency,” she explains, while strolling through their two acres of healthy herb and vegetable crops, which grow on a fairly flat part of an otherwise rolling field that boasts breathtaking, long-distance views. A trailer stands way up on that hill, above the farmhouse. It has accommodated visitors for farm stays by way of the online site HipCamp, apprentices, resident writers, friends and extended family. Every visitor enjoys that view!
Misha and Taylor love to collaborate with nature and other people and are grateful for their ever-widening network of connections. This year they have contracted with a Brooklyn, NY fabric dyer to grow a crop of gorgeous hollyhocks named “Arabian Nights”. The blossoms are of the richest oxblood, maroon and merlot, impossibly deep, dark red, nearly as black as night, and with their majestic, towering, flower-studded stalks blowing in the breeze. There is a herd of cattle that belongs to another local farmer grazing on Free Verse land, keeping their pastures open without burning fossil fuels. They grow red clover for local craft brewery, Brocklebank, Tunbridge, VT.
Their latest venture is a storefront on the North green in Chelsea, VT, called the Free Verse Farm Shop. It has just recently opened and includes an apothecary, cafe and general provisions. The plan is, of course, to see where their customers want them to concentrate and “free verse” in those directions.
Is there a secret to their success? Taylor thinks that what it takes to become a successful small farm these days is to, “not get bogged down in the non-farming parts of the job”. Luckily for them, their combined strengths are myriad, and their minds tend toward the entrepreneurial, right down to the menuccia. “We love little things like shopping for tea tins,” she says with a laugh.
Taylor and Misha haven’t forgotten the poetry of their life at Free Verse, though it would be easy amidst all they do, which includes employing three part-time field hands and parenting two and a half-year-old, Linden Honeymeadow. The couple seems to share an equanimity that one can assume, helps them do a great job balancing diversity and collaboration with simplicity and common sense. No matter how big their business grows, they are the kind of folk who will make sure that it remains “right-sized”, meaning that they won’t allow themselves to be spread too thin. They are too well centered to be thrown off course, wherever it takes them. Indeed, they seem to be enjoying the freedom of the verse they are writing together in the hills of Vermont.