Star Bright Farm
Star Bright Farm, Herbal Beauty Experienced Through the Senses
By: Sandra Yerges
Fields showcasing the vibrant purple hues of lavender and colorful varieties of fruit make up the typical views of Star Bright Farm. Owned by Helen Norman and Mark Elmore and farmed by their head farmer and son, Peter, this Maryland-based business has been family grown since 2017. With 30 varieties of herbs on the farm, their family values diversity with the plants they harvest and maintain a regenerative mindset with all they do.
Before the company began five years ago, this family utilized their land to grow vegetables for Helen’s brother. His organic vegetable farm benefitted from the extra land, and at the time, they were not looking to start their own agricultural venture. Growing up, Peter was a regular at his uncle’s farm and assisted in any way he could. From making compost to driving tractors, he absorbed every lesson he could learn about running a farming business. It was not long before Peter went away to college at the University of Vermont to major in regenerative agriculture and earn a certificate in permaculture, two areas of study that would soon be a valuable asset to the start of Star Bright Farm.
Once he finished college, Peter moved west to Oregon as he started a food aggregating job. While he was there, he continued to think about a dream he developed from a young age: working on his family’s land. Helen and Mark wished to start a lavender farm around that time while also adding other plants to the mix. They wanted to remain broad in their farming to avoid being confined to one crop. With Peter’s new scientific knowledge about the industry from his collegiate studies as well as his drive to harvest the land he grew up with, he moved back to Maryland to assist in starting this business customers enjoy to this day.
As Mark and Helen continue their respective marketing and photography careers outside of the farm, Peter leads the growing practices of the dozens of herbs and fruits on the farm. Once their herbs are harvested, they are immediately distilled on the farm resulting in hydrosols, essential oils, and all-natural skincare. Helen explained the idea behind making these herbal blends stemmed from “seeing that there was a space for this in the marketplace with people spending so much time on what they put in their bodies but not so much time on what they put on their bodies.” With this in mind, they focus on providing medicinal, aromac, and culinary products to consumers.
Helen noted that young businesses often find themselves managing large costs outweighing the money they receive for their products, and for Star Bright Farm, this fact also held true. Because they had family members also working in the agriculture industry, they looked to them for financial advice. While talking to his cousin-in-law who worked on his uncle’s farm, Peter found out they were in the process of applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) to help fund their wholesale order labels. This opened their eyes to another funding opportunity for which they could apply.
Having a new awareness of the grant led Helen and Mark to the VAPG seminar in Delaware hosted by the USDA. It was an important event for them to attend as it provided insight into what the grant does and does not cover. “It helped us recognize we were candidates,” Helen expressed. At the seminar, they spoke with Bruce Weaver who was both “patient and nurturing” during every step of the application process. The positive interactions they had with Bruce played a significant role in the experience they had with the grant.
Their labels, packaging, and design as well as their marketing greatly benefitted from their awarded grant funds. As noted by Helen, branding is a large part of their business and is not a cheap endeavor. Therefore, the money they were granted “helped us alleviate some of that burden.”
Without having to worry about the expense of packaging with the grant, they were able to continue focusing on the other important elements of their farm, including their regenerative practices. According to Peter, planting and harvesting a multitude of herbs contributes to this holistic operation. Most of the plants on the farm are perennials, so having a broad range of herbs that continue to grow year after year helps maintain an influx of beneficial insects and contributes to soil health. The farm also operates without the use of tilling and opts for mowing or tarping to retain underground nutrients for the plants. Lastly, natural compost from farm waste is their primary input instead of synthetic fertilizer.
Star Bright Farm customers have an opportunity to learn more about these practices and see the beautiful scenery by taking farm tours led by Helen and Peter. Helen mentioned one of their more recent farm tours included the management team of Passenger Coffee and Tea, a company who purchases Star Bright Farm’s dried herbs. By giving the visitors a firsthand look at the distillation process as well as providing them samples of their fragrant products, they create a lasting relationship with their valued customers.
The sights and the smells are not the only senses customers can experience when visiting the farm. During the growing season from May to October, Star Bright Farm hosts concerts within their lavender fields for the community to listen to and enjoy. The open environment is perfect for families, and dogs are welcome to attend as well. During the music performances, the store on-site is open for customers to browse and purchase the goods made with ingredients they saw while walking around the farm.
When this company envisions their future, they hope to expand their hydrosol products to the consumable product sector. In order to do so, they would need to construct a barn and obtain certifications to process these goods. They have a substantial following in their area as Helen notes they are “one of the premier distilleries on the East Coast,” and with the product expansion efforts they plan to implement, they hope to reach new customers in the West.
After viewing the positive impact the VAPG had on their company, Star Bright Farm is applying for Phase Two to continue onward with these funds. Being that they have gone through the grant process, Peter suggests anyone who is starting out to be open to speaking with someone from the USDA. They have the expertise and knowledge from their everyday work with the grant, so it would be well worth it to direct questions to them. Having support along the way, as Star Bright Farm showcased, is imperative for any small business.