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Change of Season(ings)

By Brittany Collins Kaufman / Photography By David Johnson | April 04, 2016
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Karen Nelson in front of her raised beds.
Nelson’s Herbs expands to a wider range of foods—and a market

For Karen Nelson, change is in the air.

She and her family have operated Nelson’s Herbs, just north of Edwardsburg, MI, for 25 years. The grounds hold a collection of gardens, greenhouses, buildings and barns where the family grows a bounty of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Once home to gardens full of ornamentals and herbs, two years ago Nelson’s made a switch to focus on food. “We got to thinking a couple of years ago that we don’t want to plant anything that’s not food-related,” Karen says. With the help of her son and business partner, Jason, she installed new raised beds to grow the vegetables that are sold on their front porch in the summer.
With their focus squarely on food, the Nelsons have big plans for this year.
Karen is keenly aware of the lack of fresh food options in Edwardsburg and has decided to do something about it. “Edwardsburg hasn’t had a grocery store in the past six years. It is a food desert,” she says. Unhappy with the limited choices for residents, she and Jason approached the Jefferson Township Board about starting a farmers market.
Since no one had tried anything like it before, “they had no idea what to tell us,” Jason recalls. “There were no rules for it, so we had to make the rules.”
The Nelsons have lined up several local vendors for the start of the market around mid-April, depending on the weather. “We want to be a true, traditional farmers market,” Karen says. “We’re planning on Saturday mornings into the afternoons every weekend. I know people who play bluegrass music; I’m going to ask them if they want to come out and jam in the market. Nothing better than music and food. We have a guy who can do cooking demonstrations on some of the oddities.”
 
Teaching people what they can do with the plants and herbs available at her shop is one of Karen’s passions. “We’re planning on a lot of things for this year. One is classes. We’re also planning open houses, where we do short, outside classes that people can join in on. Our big thing is going to be teaching people that they can grow their own food on a very small piece of land. All you need is a sunny spot.”

The Nelsons’ raised beds and greenhouses are put to use growing plants both well-known and unfamiliar to most of their customers. “Last year, we had 11 types of tomatoes, 14 types of hot peppers, seven types of sweet peppers, five types of eggplant,” Jason says. “People aren’t used to seeing the oddities yet. We have a Green Zebra tomato, which is a green tomato with stripes. People have asked for it, which is why we put it in. We always go for suggestions.”

“Our vegetable varieties are all antique and heirloom,” Karen says. “We only do business with the seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge,” which is a contract that states that seeds sold by companies that sign it are strictly non-GMO.

Inside the shop, dried hot peppers hang from the ceiling and books and cards line the front wall. Karen sells a selection of local goods, including 350 varieties of dried herbs and tea, honey, soap, lotion and maple syrup, as well as jams, salsas and pickles from the Dutch Kettle in Bremen, IN.

In the next few years, Karen dreams of putting in fruit trees and fruiting bushes on the property. She wants to start offering donations to a local soup kitchen when she has an overflow of produce. She and Jason are also working to get their farm certified as a warm season prairie through the Conservation Reserve Program, which would protect their land as a habitat for native species. A cat named Mama roams the property now, but Jason wants to put in walking trails so 
people could come and wander through their land.
 
Karen credits the whole thing to her mentor, Olive Williams, who taught her everything she knew about herbs. “She was looking for somebody to pass her knowledge to,” Karen smiles. 
“It’s wonderful.”

Nelson’s Herbs has an active Facebook page where they post news, class schedules and events. Check them out online at Facebook.com/NelsonsHerbs.
 
Nelson’s Herbs
65391 Dailey Rd.
Edwardsburg, MI 49112

574.215.8212

Photo 1: Karen Nelson in one of her greenhouses.
Photo 2: Nelson’s Herbs has a new focus of selling edible plants, herbs and produce.

Farmers Market
 
Starting in mid-April, the Nelsons plan to open a farmers market featuring local vendors selling items ranging from produce to honey to soaps. Several vendors have signed on, including:
 
Debra Stevens, Personal Chef, Niles, MI
Janet Pettifor, Bohemian Hair Jewelry, Dowagiac, MI
Ken’s Hen Free-Range Eggs, Cassopolis, MI
 
The Nelsons are looking for more vendors, including vegetable growers, bakers and cheesemakers. Anyone who is interested is welcome to call Karen at 574.215.8212.
Article from Edible Michiana at http://ediblemichiana.ediblecommunities.com/shop/change-seasonings
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