Growing Medicine: This Nurse-Turned-Farmer Found Balance Farming Herbs, Not Food

Posted - October 30, 2017

In a former iteration, Barefoot Botanicals grew all kinds of produce and operated a CSA. It was exhausting. But a shift in focus helped reduce stress and diversify clientele.

A few years ago, Linda Shanahan and Eric Vander Hyde appeared to be living the agricultural dream. Their organic CSA farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, called Barefoot Gardens, employed eight people and was grossing around $100,000 annually. “We grew pretty much everything we could grow in this zone,” says Shanahan. In spring, that meant arugula, bok choy, pea shoots, kale, chard, and strawberries. Summer brought tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplants. Come fall, the harvest included pumpkins, carrots, beets, and kohlrabi.

On the surface, it seemed a clear success story: Couple Achieves Marital Bliss through Diversified Vegetable Operation. In reality? Such a wide variety of crops meant that the pair was locked into a cycle of continual sowing and reaping from April to November. ”It was week after week of seeding, transplanting, and harvesting all at the same time,” explains Shanahan. “It was overwhelming.” Adds Vander Hyde, “We were burned out. And the numbers weren’t adding up.” Both had to take part-time jobs outside the farm just to make ends meet.

Even worse, per Shanahan: “Our work/life balance was so out of whack that it drove us to have difficulties with our marriage. We started questioning ourselves. Why do we live here? Why are we doing this?” Clearly, continuing along the same course was no longer a possibility. “We were either going to quit or change what we were doing,” she recalls.

Shanahan, a former nurse who studied public health in grad school, began to connect the dots between her background in medicine and the plants she was tending in Pennsylvania. What if, she thought, the farm shifted focus from zuchinni and tomatoes to catnip, yarrow, chamomile, lavender, and wormwood? “I began to believe that this transition would balance my needs with Eric’s. We would have more time for each other, too.”