Our lavender is grown on 35 acres of reclaimed coal mine land in the heart of Appalachia. The story of our farm is central to our philosophy at Appalachian Botanical Co – we believe in second chances.
The rise and fall of coal in America is a story that many of us are familiar with. Like many areas along the Appalachian Mountains, ABCo’s hometown of Ashford, West Virginia was once an active coal town. At one point, over 100,000 West Virginians worked and mined this once plentiful natural resource. Today, however, only about 2% of West Virginia’s employment is from coal and much of the post-use land lays dormant.
Charleston, West Virginia remains the most populated city in the state. However, just 30 minutes away, the people in coal towns like Ashford are hard pressed to find promising work opportunities. We saw two problems that go hand in hand – our land needs new life, and our community needs new opportunities.
Post-Use Coal Mine Land & Lavender – The Odd Couple
Jocelyn Sheppard, the founder and president of Appalachian Botanical Co., is no stranger to growing opportunities. For over 20 years, Jocelyn worked as a consultant for local entrepreneurs and startups. She also worked on a grant team that helped to transform another “fruitless” area of Appalachia into a thriving lavender demonstration project. Having had a taste of lavender, literally and figuratively, Jocelyn decided to transform 35 acres in Ashford into an independent botanical business and a catalyst for social good – Appalachian Botanical Co.
After coal mines are abandoned, it becomes very difficult to grow traditional crops, such as corn, in the surrounding land. Most of the topsoil is stripped away and the soil becomes dense and virtually unproductive. However, it does provide great drainage. Enter our friend, lavender.
Lavender has an especially strong appetite; it retains water and nutrients and it loves well drained soil. Where others saw barren, abandoned land, Jocelyn saw potential. In true “making lemons into lemonade” fashion, she saw the two as a perfect pairing to break into the botanical industry. Still, planting a Mediterranean plant in the Appalachian Mountains is no easy task. Before plants could be put in the ground, she had to build a team.
The Lavender Team
Our mission has always been: “To build a botanical enterprise that puts West Virginians and reclaimed coal mine land back to work.”
In a town where job opportunities are fewer and farther in between than they have ever been, we knew that we wanted to bring something big back to the area. We believe in providing stable, reliable, and rewarding work opportunities to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of age, education, disability or other barriers to employment. Above that, we believe in providing a liveable wage in return for the hard work and care that they put into our lavender fields.
Two years in and 70,000 plants later, our farm is blooming with lavender, with 90 percent of our workers from Boone County or the surrounding areas. Our farm is also home to bees who take pollen from our lavender plants and create a wide variety of organic, natural, and local honey products infused with Appalachian lavender.
Bringing in the Entire Community
Though the farm is currently closed to the public, we’re working on getting it open-house ready for people from all over the state to visit. However, West Virginia (WV) delegate Rodney Miller, WV Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch, WV Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt, and others have all visited and shared their appreciation with us for creating jobs and growing opportunities in their hometowns.
Our products are Appalachian through and through, from the land’s rich history, to the bees that pollinate our plants, the distillery where we process our lavender, and the people who tend our fields. We are proud to be hosted by this little slice of Appalachia and hope to expand from 35 acres to 120 by the end of 2021.
If you want to join our team and our mission to reclaim and reinvigorate post-use coal mine land. you can fill out an application online. You can also get to know more about our team, from our founders, to our workers, and our bees by following along with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and/or YouTube. Lastly, if you want to support our mission and help us continue to grow, you can try any one of our lavender products and savor your own little slice of Appalachia.
West Virginia has the history, the scenery, and the potential – all it takes is a creative eye and an open mind to reinvent and re-imagine the land into something that the entire community can support and be supported by.
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