By Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Local Foods
After reading aloud my first assignment in a graduate school writing class called “Writing for the Real World,” my instructor gushed with praise. The task was to interview Debbie, a fellow classmate, about the role of writing in her life. I learned that Debbie had a terrifying and comical (in hindsight only) experience with plagiarism in the third grade in which she tried to pass off her favorite fairy tale as her own story to the teacher who also happened to be the school librarian, and who also happened to have the book in the school’s collection. Upon hearing my professor’s high compliments, I instantly confessed that I was raised by a journalist.
Gail Record (known to me as mom) first wrote for a newspaper in Beckley, W.Va. and then for the State Journal-Register as a free-lance writer throughout the decade of the 80s. At first she would craft her articles by typewriter in the dark when her two children and husband were sound asleep and the house was finally quiet enough to hear herself think. Most of her articles were on the topic of food and while I never saw her writing process, I tasted the benefits of being a food writer’s daughter. I ate caramel apples with delight, cherished road trips for the famous throwed rolls, and experienced many edible adventures, all the while thinking my mom had a pretty cool job.
Without intending to follow in my mom’s footsteps, I found myself doing just that more than a year ago when Lincoln Land Community College acquired this weekly column. Even more surprising was finding out that I had written an article about herbs as she had done 15 years before me. In Gail’s article “Herbs: adding spice to gardening,” she interviewed Bertha Reppert, a modern day herbal pioneer and author who owned a herb and spice shop located in Mechanicsburg, Pa. since 1968. The following excerpt from Sept. 7, 1988 teaches me how much has changed in local food during the past two decades and how the essence largely remains the same:
When Bertha Reppert opened an herb shop in Mechanicsburg, Pa., 20 years ago, she thought the world was waiting to get in. Instead, she found herself in a mostly empty shop tying endless bows from yards of satin ribbon.
Eventually customers did fill Rosemary House, a post-Civil War row house with an herb garden in back. But Reppert didn’t just sit waiting for them. She went out to spread the herbal gospel to anyone who would listen.
“In the beginning, I would talk to any group that even hinted they were interested in herbs,” said Reppert, during a recent visit to the Mari-Mann Herb Farm in Decatur.
All the things Reppert has learned about herbs would fill volumes, and have. Her latest book, “Herbs with Confidence,” won an award for literary achievement from the National Council of State Garden Clubs …
Mari-Mann owner Maribeth Bewein says “Herbs with Confidence” outsells all other herb books because it is so packed with information. The book contains 135 recipes, 55 herbal crafts plus detailed advice on growing and using 50 herbs.
The infinite uses of herbs are at the heart of Reppert’s fascination with them. “If you don’t harvest and use them,” Reppert said, “you might as well grow petunias.”…
Reppert fondly refers to herbs as the “workhorses of the plant kingdom,” and rapidly ticks off uses of herbs in fragrances, as seasoning, in dyes or fibers, as insecticides, in decoration and in medicine …
Interest in herbs is blossoming everywhere, Reppert says, although the popularity of herbs is especially high on both coasts …
“Non-believers are jumping on the bandwagon,” Reppert said.
Actually there are several herbal bandwagons. The use of herbs as an aromatic is becoming increasingly prevalent. More and more aromatic herbal products are appearing on store shelves, Reppert said. Aroma therapy is also undergoing study. Tests have shown fragrance can reduce stress, Reppert said …
Reppert advises everyone to grown their own herbs, “even if they have just an inch of space. There is no comparison between what you can buy and what you can grow yourself,” she says.
A little more than six years after this article was written, Reppert published a book titled “Growing Your Herb Business” where she teaches people to turn a love of herbs into a profitable business. The book explains how to determine a start-up budget, find niche markets, create unique packaging, track inventory, and organize business-boosting special events. It’s easy to imagine that without Reppert and people to tell her story, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Nowadays small herb-based business entrepreneurs like Amy Andrews of Greenthoughts Garden in Virden grace farmer’s markets and grocery stores in small towns and big cities across the country selling a variety of herbal products using handcrafted herbs and natural ingredients. Amy features handmade soaps, lip balms, laundry detergent and more at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market with herbs grown in her garden. In addition, herbs used to make essential oils are sold and celebrated widely at house events rivaling the Tupperware parties of the 1950s. Each aroma proclaiming a distinct accompaniment for health and well-being, including cilantro to aid digestion or lavender for calming and relaxing.
I asked my mom if she remembers going to Mari-Mann Herb Farm. She said it’s the only place where she has found a cup of tea she liked. Evidence that nothing beats fresh and why people are still jumping on the bandwagon.