Friday, November 6, 2009

road trip: organic herb farm

It'd been a while since my first visit to Happy Herbs - the 100% organic herb farm on the shores of Lake Victoria where I buy dried herbs for One Mango Tree eye pillows. We were running low on our two scent varieties - energize (lemon balm, lemon grass, spearmint and peppermint) and relax (lavender, lemon balm, marjoram). The farm is on the road to Entebbe, so after dropping Zach and Anna at the airport, I took the bumpy road to meet with Ibrahim, the head gardener, to mix up some bags to carry up to Gulu.

I arrived following a rainy season shower, with deep blue-gray clouds on the horizon, and the overgrown driveway to the garden filled with pools of opaque orange water. The garden's paths wind in and out of tropical foliage, still dripping from the recent shower. I noticed a sprawling vegetable garden, with staked lima beans, beets and lettuces. Several plots filled with weeds - keeping the soil nutrient-rich for the next planting of herbs. I could hear the waves on the shore below - a garden on the lake (rows of herbs under tropical palms, right). When I got to the drying house, Ibrahim was just arriving - riding on a bicycle with his gumboots.

The drying house is lined with brightly colored buckets labeled using masking tape (Ibrahim, below, in the storage room). It reads like a giant-sized, encyclopedic spice rack: lemon basil, sage, cinnamon basil, rosemary, thyme, chamomile, etc. etc. etc. All varieties dried and also powdered for herbal remedies. Four ladies sat at a table with baskets of rosemary, picking the needles from their stems.

Ibrahim and I got down to business spreading out the herbs for our eye pillows on the table, carefully scooping handfuls and bringing them to our noses to measure the scent.

"Ah, the mint is too strong. Add more lemon grass," he suggested.

Happy Herbs was started by Marion Boenders. Her other occupation is running the Wagagai Clinic. Wagagai is a huge greenhouse, exporting cuttings to Europe. The Clinic serves the workers and surrounding community. But really, Marion's pride and joy is the organic herb garden. She showed up while Ibrahim and I were packing the herbs, and we headed off to have some lemon cake and herbal tea (which she sells locally in Kampala). She added chamomile to mine to "chill me out."

...perhaps we should consider adding chamomile to the next round of Relax Eye Pillows. I certainly left Happy Herbs feeling, well...happier.

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