Paul Richards of herbfarmacy in Herefordshire
"We learned as we went along and all believed the organic approach to be the only way forward that respects the planet we live on."
The herbfarmacy herb farm is a five acre smallholding in the beautiful Welsh Border country of west Herefordshire, where Paul has been growing medicinal herbs organically since 1983. Cropping was mainly for drying at first and was followed by infused herbal oils, ointments and fresh herbal tinctures. Knowledge of the skin benefits of the herbs used in the range of healing ointments Paul formulated lead naturally into their use in the herbfarmacy range of skincare he developed with his wife Carol and the rest of the team that make the products on the farm. Around six people work for on the farm, depending on the time of year. There is an open farm weekend in July when there is a blaze of floral colours with the bright maroon-pink Echinacea, orange Calendula, lilac Marshmallow and several others.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you went organic?
Having studied Botany and done research in Plant Physiology, I started organic growing back in 1974 on a smallholding in Aberdeenshire along with two others plus many visiting helpers. We learned as we went along and all believed the organic approach to be the only way forward that respects the planet we live on. We majored on vegetables which were sold on a stall in Aberdeen and later in a cooperative shop I helped to start, which was one of the first small coops in Scotland.
We also grew comfrey as a plant and animal feed (we had cattle, poultry and pigs), and I started reading about its many medicinal uses. My growing interest in herbs, combined with practical hands-on experience, sowed the seeds for potentially growing herbs commercially at some point in the future. Having moved back near to my roots on the Welsh Border to be closer to family, I eventually bought a cottage and small parcels of land at Eardisley in 1983 - and immediately registered 'in conversion' with the Soil Association. We gradually built up from one and three-quarters of an acre to nearly five.
All our growing and products have been certified by the Soil Association, which in the case of more complex beauty products has proved to be quite a challenge compared with the simple herbs, oils and balms we started with.
Organic principles - why do they matter?
Coming from a botanical background with a strong interest in native flora and plant ecology, organic principles follow on naturally as they aim to mimic the balance of nature as closely as possible. No other way will do, and I believe the principles extend to the whole sphere of activity covering the people we work with and the materials and ingredients we buy in and how they are produced.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
I was first a member of the Soil Association in 1974 when I started in organic growing/farming in Aberdeenshire. I read many of the organic classics including Lady Eve Balfour's 'The Living Soil', and realised the crucial importance of soil health to the whole organic system. I have been a symbol holder since 1985.
Who are your customers and where are they?
They are many and varied, and include dedicated organic consumers who love the way our products work and those who find our products suit their sensitive skin conditions. Where? We supply shops locally and nationally as well as our herbfarmacy shop in Hay-on-Wye. We have an online shop - www.herbfarmacy.co.uk - and we also supply products overseas, particularly to the Far East.
What do you love most about what you do?
Working with plants which I have been fascinated by since childhood walks in the lanes and fields with my dad. And working with others - we have been very fortunate in having a great team working with us at herbfarmacy.
What do you find most frustrating about what you do?
That I spend too much time in front of a computer and too little with the plants.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
If I was Prime Minister I would...
...simplify the tax system so that tax is based on ability to pay, and introduce a Carbon Tax – there's been too much hot air about global warming and too little action. And... (don't get me started!)
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
What goes round comes round.
When were you happiest?
I'm pretty happy right here and now.
What is your favourite meal?
A well-baked floury organic spud with Ragstone goats cheese and onion marmalade with a green salad or coleslaw.
To find out more about herbfarmacy visit www.herbfarmacy.co.uk