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Think Global, Act Local: Forging Appalachia's Lavender Ecosystem

Our lavender fields were never meant to stand alone. We created Appalachian Botanical Co. to be the catalyst for a booming botanical industry that puts our land and our community back to work.


The location and idea behind our lavender field and mission was no mistake – we are growing lavender and opportunities on and off the farm.

 

How We Got Here

Jocelyn Sheppard is the founder and president of Appalachian Botanical Co. Jocelyn has a long history of working as a consultant to entrepreneurs, tech startups and nonprofits–so maybe it’s no surprise that she got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug herself! During her journey as a consultant, Jocelyn co-wrote an Appalachian Regional Commission POWER Initiative grant that would later serve as the inspiration for ABCo. The project, which had begun several months earlier as a Benedum Foundation-funded demonstration project, was designed to further show that abandoned coal mine land previously thought to be minimally productive could actually provide the basis for a profitable botanical enterprise. 

The grant was successful! A large demo-plot was established in Hershaw, WV, in the Appalachian mountains. By the time Jocelyn had reached the end of her contract with the grant team, lavender was blooming! And by the time the grant itself had ended, she was convinced that this was too good a business opportunity to let go to waste. So, she founded Appalachian Botanical Co., leased land in Boone County, and made plans to start planting lavender in Spring 2019.

From the soil to the climate to the local labor force, lavender just seemed like the perfect fit. We knew that we wanted to be more than just a few acres of land, we wanted to provide opportunities to anyone in our community who wanted to join our team. That’s why we have been very deliberate about our hiring process; we offer flexible employment to people who, due to substance use issues, prior incarceration, lack of transportation, and/or lack of a high school diploma have had limited opportunities for decent-paying jobs. Some of our employees have even been unemployed due to the serious downturn in the coal industry. We want our lavender field to stand as a testament to the resiliency of our land and our community.

 

Where We Are

Today, ABCo’s lavender field is situated on 35 acres of land in Ashford, West Virginia. We are celebrating our first successful lavender harvest and the variety of sustainable lavender products that have come out of it, but we’re not doing it alone. We secured the consulting services of WV Wilderness Apiaries to create a plan to increase our beehive count from 12 to 50 by the end of 2021. We engaged Mystic Formulations, a laboratory based in Charleston, WV, to distill our lavender essential oil and formulate our specialty body care products.

Our first successful harvest provided us with enough lavender to create a variety of lavender products, from essential oil, to CBD cream, lavender sea salt, massage oil, and honeys. Summer 2021 should see an even larger lavender harvest at Ashford, and along with it an expanded local workforce and product line.

 

Where We’re Going

After experiencing success on our little slice of Appalachia, we’re excited to grow our lavender ecosystem even larger. Over the next two years, Appalachian Botanical Co. has plans to expand from 35 to 120 acres under cultivation, with the possibility of expanding to additional acres of lavender soon after that. As we expand, we intend to serve as a hub and a partner for lavender- and honey-related businesses in the area. There’s plenty of opportunity to go around!

Lavender even offers benefits to the coal mining companies who are legally required to restore the land they’ve mined. Currently, reforestation is the primary method used to breathe life back into the land, but it’s both costly and time consuming. Lavender, on the other hand, makes the land productive much more quickly, which allows coal mine operators to rapidly recoup their reclamation bond fees, and it gives coal mine landowners a new source of revenue. Lavender lets us honor the coal mining history of this region, while at the same time cultivating an innovative economic and ecological opportunity.

Our community is at the heart (literally) of our lavender field and at everything we aim to do at Appalachian Botanical Co. No matter where we go next, we want to stay connected to and serve the needs of the people in our community. If you want to follow along with our progress, you can do so on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. We also hope to one day open our farm to the public so you can get to the nitty gritty of what we’re all about. If you want to join us in our journey, you can help us on the farm, like and share our content on social media, purchase a product for your or a friend, or invest in us and in the growing lavender ecosystem here in Appalachia.

 

MEET THE AUTHOR  /  ELIZA TALVOLA

 

 

MEET THE AUTHOR /  ELIZA TALVOLA is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA who considers herself to be a conscious consumer and traveler, slow fashion advocate, and devoted foodie. She is a firm believer in creative reuse and putting people over profits, and is a long time lavender enthusiast. Her favorite product: Lavender Hand Sanitizer Spray

Comments (1)

  • Ian on July 08, 2021

    Re: the photo that accompanies this blog post, was it taken in your lavender fileds?
    Do you have other photos of the fields ?
    Great story, great project, wishing you lots of success.
    Thanks

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