Lavender essential oil.
Photo by Wendy Gregory
Painting the once scarred and barren landscape purple and filling the air with the scent of lavender and the buzz of honeybees, Appalachian Botanical Co. has been growing lavender and raising bees in Ashford, West Virginia. They began in 2018 by recruiting and training a local workforce of former coal miners and those in drug and alcohol recovery from the area. By 2019 they had planted 20,000 lavender plants the first spring and 40,000 more the first fall using organic farming practices and reclaiming 35 acres of coal mine lands in Boone County, West Virginia. Three varieties are grown in separate fields for different uses: Provence, Phenomenal and Munstead. Harvesting the stems, leaves and blossoms of the plants, they distill them to extract the essential oil that is used to create their products. The remaining stems are then harvested for use in campfires, fireplaces, or barbeques.
Their mission is “to build a profitable botanical enterprise that puts West Virginians and reclaimed coal mine land back to work. Some call this a “triple bottom line” business model, where positive impacts on people, profit and the planet are valued equally.”
Reclaimed coal mining land.
Photo courtesy of Appalachian Botanical Co.
See the process and the people in this video:Appalachian Botanical Co. Introduction
Coal mine operators are legally required to restore the land where the land is damaged and surface soil and plants are removed to access coal through hundreds of thousands of dollars in reclamation bonds. They do not recover the funds until the land is restored and productive, usually through reforestation which is a time-consuming and expensive process. Lavender speeds up the reclamation and bond release process with a fast-growing cash crop while healing the land and providing work for people in the area.
Lavender is suited to this reclaimed land since it thrives in the well-drained rocky soil left behind in reclaimed mining land while the plentiful rainfall and sun in the area gives it the water and light it needs to thrive. With its drought and pest resistance and need for only a small amount of organic fertilizer, lavender is the perfect for this environment. It takes a year to get the plants from cuttings to harvest and 2 years for a plant to fully mature. All the harvesting and processing is done by hand by local workers.
Lavender blossoms. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Botanical Co.
Complimenting the lavender and assisting in the plant pollination are 30 hives of bees. Not only are they pollinators, but they are producers. Their honey is scented by the lavender plants they work each day. The honey is also sold on their site and in regional specialty shops.
Targeting the environmentally and health-conscious consumer who values natural ingredients and health solutions, their products are sold online and in local and regional shops. Essential oils, lavender infused honey, body care products and even lavender salt are part of the product line.
Lavender botanicals travel kit.
Photo by Wendy Gregory
The increase in interest in essential oils and the healing properties of herbs makes the crop a successful agricultural venture while being earth-friendly and building the local economy.
Could this be a model for reclaiming some of the millions of acres of former coal mining land across the country? Could wasteland be returned to productivity and bring jobs and life back to areas of the country depleted of natural resources and decimated by unemployment and addiction? Appalachian Botanicals has proven it can.
Wendy Gregoryspent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer recently relocated to the home of her ancestors in West Virginia and exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.