What do you do with 50 acres of reclaimed coal fields? Well, if you are Appalachian Botanical Company, you grow lavender.
What started as a conversation in 2016 has become a thriving business in Boone County with a mission of building a profitable botanical enterprise that puts West Virginians and reclaimed coal mine land back to work.
Jocelyn Sheppard, founder and president of Appalachian Botanical Co. (ABCo) founded the organization in 2018. Originally a grant writer with other projects winding down, she realized growing lavender and creating the resulting botanical products was her next step.
With Penn Virginia Operating Co. as landlord and after a year of consulting Marina Sawyer joining the team as Chief Technical Officer in 2020, they were ready to get busy.
Getting to Mine #2 in Ashford was a bit tricky. Constant rain wreaked havoc on the roads, causing our tour to be postponed several times. I’m no newbie to WV backroads, but these roads required my full attention. After parking at the security gate, we received our Hazard Training certification and a very serious list of dos and don’ts while in the fields. From there, we hopped into other transportation for the trip up the hill.
Seeing the first field of lavender billowing in the wind was worth it. What was once poor, dry sunbaked soil proved to be the perfect home for lavender. There is no need for cultivating the soil with compost and other organic matter or irrigation lines – lavender isn’t interested.
Lavender plants have a lifespan of 13-15 years and are considered fully mature at three years old. Most years, the lavender is harvested twice, in May and August.
This harvest is done by hand while simultaneously pruning the bushes. Field workers are taught under the watchful eye of Marina. She teaches how to care for the lavender fields along with life lessons.
ABCo. is proud to offer employment opportunities to those who, due to substance use issues, prior incarceration, lack of transportation, or lack of a high school diploma, have limited options for other jobs.
To keep new plants in the rotation, starts are propagated in high tunnels until ready for planting. Then the holes are dug by 2-man augers.
Currently ABCo. has cultivated 38 acres of the reclaimed coal fields. They grow three different varieties of lavender and are committed to organic gardening.
As we traveled through the fields, safety was a top priority. Following the rules was important, it allowed us to see these fields up close. The experts know the different varieties at a quick glance or even taste of the leaves.
Munstead lavender is often referred to as English lavender or culinary lavender. Most recipes ask for lavender flowers, either dried, fresh, or frozen. Tender leaves and stems are edible. Once the stems are older and woody, they can be added to marinades, meat rubs, or even tossed into the firepit.
Provence, or the French hybrid of lavender, blooms mid to late summer. The slender flowers are drought-, deer- and rabbit-resistant.
Phenomenal lavender is exceptionally fragrant and is used for dried floral arrangements and essential oils. ABCo. uses all three of these varieties in the products they produce and sell.
Bees love lavender, and lavender loves bees. ABCo. supports the bee population with its own apiary – or colony of bees. Today they have 12 colonies with a goal of 50 in the near future. This supports the pollination of the lavender and the environment. They also harvest the organic honey for their product line.
ABCo. products include men’s and women’s grooming products, mists, and culinary choices. I’m a fan of the mist and lavender cream. Their products are carried in several West Virginia stores and across the country from Massachusetts, Georgia, to Oregon. Of course, you can learn more and shop from their website www.appalachianbotanical.com.
Standing on a ridgeline looking across the mountains of West Virginia is always beautiful. Toss in 38 acres of lavender, and it is breathtaking. Reclaiming the land and creating beauty – that’s the Appalachian way.