Flower power assisting Apple Hill Lavender
Looking to grow on the success of its lavender crop, Melissa and Jenn Schooley are examining the possibilities of other herbs and flowers. Calendula is the latest option they are working on.
Calendula is a flower - similar to marigolds - that has uses as an anti-inflammatory and for wound healing.
“Traditionally they fed it to chickens to make egg yolks yellower,” Melissa said. “It’s been used in traditional medicine for centuries.”
The idea to grow it came from the popularity of a product they sell that contains calendula.
“We decided since it was so popular with customers, we wanted to grow our own so we could make our own product,” Melissa said.
There are many other uses for calendula as well. Taken internally, it’s an anti-inflammatory in the digestive tract, is good for peptic ulcers and can treat temporary irritation caused by eating spicy or hot foods.
“It’s really good to calm any inflammation along the G.I.,” Melissa said.
Because Health Canada recognizes the medicinal value of these herbs, the Schooleys can make their own products from it.
Plans are to make infused oil and foot balm from the first batch. A cream to treat scars is also a possibility.
“We can see the quality is greatly improved from when we use commercially-bought calendula, so we are really looking forward to this,” Melissa said.
Calendula has a taste the Schooleys rate as bitter. They said it could be missed with other herbs for a tea, or mixed into a green tea.
With this being the first year growing calendula, the Schooleys are starting small with only 36 plants. The idea was to learn what diseases and pests can impact it before committing to growing more.
“We take it one small step at a time to see what we have to combat before we grow larger amounts,” Jenn said.
Calendula would be a natural fit for Apple Hill Lavender. The fourth-generation farm was looking to expand from apples 11 years ago and the first lavender went in the ground. More followed and an on-farm boutique was built nine years ago. Now there are 7.5 acres of lavender and 147 products made from the lavender. These include teas, essential oils, linen spray, syrup, spice blends and more.
A medicinal herb plot was also added this year. It includes chamomile, holy basil, lemon balm and gotu kola. These will also be expanded on in the future.
Besides being sold in the boutique on the farm, the lavender products are sold in stores across Canada from coast to coast and north to Whitehorse.
A new spin on a different apple
Since becoming the fourth generation to run the family farm, Melissa and Jenn Schooley have been trying to approach business differently.
Their approach to the silken apples that were planted by their father 10 years ago is one example.
Silken is a light-coloured, but tasty apple, that can’t be sold in grocery stores because it bruises easily. They are only sold at Cleaver Orchards roadside stand and The Apple Place in Simcoe for this reason.
“It’s a really light green when it’s ripe,” Jenn said. “It has a beautiful taste, which is why some of the growers got it.”
Their father Harold planted this variety on the farm. Instead of selling their silken in the smaller markets, they are going to convert the apples to juice, which is bursting with flavour and is different from large-scale juice products.
“We’re thinking outside the box and offering a product that is unique to the market,” Melissa said.
“We didn’t plant a lot because we found you can’t sell them in the grocery stores then the market shrinks considerably,” Jenn added.
The juice they will produce will be a unique product that will be sold in the farm’s Apple Hill Lavender Shop. It will also be made available to specialty food and wine stores the Schooleys already supply with lavender and apple products. Restaurants are another venue for sale of the new juice option.
In the process of taking over the farm from their parents Harold and Janice, Melissa and Jenn are looking for unique ways to make the 50-acre farm north of Simcoe a viable operation.
Their great-grandfather planted the first 10 apple trees in 1906. The family has been involved in the Norfolk Fruit Growers Association since the group’s earliest days.
The current generation is a unique arrangement with Melissa looking after the marketing and business and Jenn directing farm operations.
“I’m the one who makes sure things don’t die,” Jenn jokes.
There are other possibilities that are being explored for the silken and other varieties of apples. These include dried apples and apple cider vinegar.
The other big part of the orchard operation is the offshore labourers who assist with picking and other tasks. Some of them have been coming to the Schooley farm for 40 years.
“They’re part of the family,” Jenn said. “We couldn’t do this work without them.”
As innovations continue, who knows what the next apple product that will be launched by the Schooley sisters.