An Inside Look at the Lancaster Farmacy
Lancaster County is located in south central PA. Famously known as the “bible belt” due to the strong presence of Mennonites and Amish folk, this area is full of local, organic and green. There is a farm on practically every corner of the road. They are very local, some are organic, and all over you see green. Those are the most popular buzzwords used with people going healthy and going back to being “one with nature”. It is all part of the sustainability commitment.
Wait! Well, what is Sustainability?
-Finding better ways to do things
If there were one business within Lancaster County that is great at being local, organic and green; it would be the Lancaster FARMacy. Their title is a little play on words, but they are one sustainable farm that will stick around for years to come.
Elizabeth Weir originally started the Farmacy. She was born and raised in Lancaster County. After going away to college and getting a bachelors degree in art and social change, Elizabeth decided that the corporate and non-profit life was not for her. She wanted to make a difference and be natural… there were too many pollutants in her life. So, she and a friend created a local farm that specialized in natural healing, called the Lancaster Farmacy.
That is when she met her business partner Casey Spacht. Casey is a herbologist that has the same love as Elizabeth does for the use of natural healing and herbs. The two of them each invested $500; a lot of sweat and the rest is history, as they say.
About the Farm
At the farm, they mainly grow all natural and organic produce related to medicine, teas, and flowers. The farm has an excellent selection of herbs as well. The herbs and flowers help the Farmacy to keep their natural sense and help keep them in business, as some items tend to be “cash crops”. Cash crops being the items they sell rather than use themselves.
The farm is compromised of 5 acres, half a barn, two owners, 1 beaten down truck, and one hired worker. They are currently in their seventh growing season. For 5 acres, this farm sure has made a huge difference. In availability of local medicinal options. Staying in business, as a farmer, is hard enough but being able to expand and continue to provide for the community year after year shows just how sustainable this business is.
Each year the farm has taken on a number of college interns to help educate young adults on organic farming. The interns are put to work immediately. Running a farm is no easy task, and full of manual labor. At the completion of the interns’ semester, they are then able to go out with their green thumb and make a difference in some part of the world, even if it is just their back yard.
How They Stay in Business
The Lancaster Farmacy is a part of the Lancaster Farm Fresh cooperative. This is their parent organization and it really helps to keep the money flowing. The Farmacy is able to give the cooperative a nice selection of herbs and produce, and then they receive a cash payment to help them continue buying seeds, and farming the land. The cooperative then goes on to share the Farmacy’s produce throughout the co-op with its shareholders.
The community loves Lancaster Farmacy. Everything the farm produces is 100% natural and non-toxic. The cooperative is just one of the many ways the farm makes a profit. They also actively participate in a program called Community Supported Agriculture. They currently have about 50 local citizens who invest in the farm, and then receive a small share of what the Farm-acy produces.
What do They Grow?
Their most popular items are:
But they also grow:
-Perennials — small flower plants that are able to come back for a year or two.
-Herbs – various leafs and herbs to create tea’s and healing elements, also used in cooking.
The Secret to Growth
That original $500 investment was just the start. In order to cover cost of labor, overhead, and future seeds / growing supplies; the owners of Lancaster Farmacy make little to no salary. They continue to farm because of all the good that comes from their efforts and products.
Interestingly enough, this farm has no tractor. They generally use all hand tools to help hoe their acreage and use a water system called drip irrigation. This allows them to use 100% of the water they give to plants rather than other methods like water spraying or the hose fashion. The soil soaks up the water and they end up using less water than other farms because their irrigation is so effective.
To fertilize all of the farms crops, they continually try to keep their soil as rich in nutrients as possible. They do this in two ways.
- They plant using a method called permaculture. This allows their crops to be grown in as natural a process as possible. Their fields are covered in hay over the winter to conserve the soil and some areas of the farm have grass growing to hold the soil in place until the next plant. The farmers even use cardboard through out their field to conserve and recycle material into their soil.
- Their second method is Compost soil! At Lancaster Farmacy, they have their own compost pile, full of recycled dead plant and produce material. This is the most natural way to get the best soil because they put local organic material into a pile to be decomposed and recycled into the land. At the bottom of the pile is a thing call black mold. The mold is rich in nutrients and is the best growing medium for new crops.
Charity at the Farm
The farm still has a lot of expanding to do. Currently they work on two charity type projects, but are always looking for more.
The first, involves breast cancer victims. The owner Elizabeth is able to help patients after they go through radiation treatments with certain teas. She also does a property walk with them on the farm to educate the patients on natural medicine and farming.
The second project involves incarcerated children. This undertaking is very special to the kids. A lot of the children come from the inner city with poorer backgrounds. Every so often a group will visit Elizabeth and volunteer as her helpers for the day. The kids learn a lot, but so does Elizabeth. It’s a heart-warming experience for all.
The Future of Lancaster Farmacy
In the coming year, the community will only see more and more of the farm. Owners Elizabeth and Casey already have plans and the infrastructure to build a green house. They currently use a friend’s to start their seedlings in the spring. However, this spring they plan on using a high tunnel type green house that will allow them to expand their growing season, which will help their profits in the long run.
Each year they tend to do 1-2 educational workshops. Owner Elizabeth wants that changed as soon as possible. Already in the works, is the plan to set up a series of education experiences for the 2016 – 2017 growing season. Patrons can expect anything from tea experiences to herb 411 info sessions. Elizabeth is all about the natural healing on her farm, and she plans on sharing her knowledge with the community… and she does whenever she can!
PhotoSlide! Below is a picture demonstration of the various aspects around the FARMacy
Farmacy Podcast! Below is an audio file that further explains the farm
Fertilizer- Nutrients within soil that helps plants grow
Permaculture- Using grass or hay to keep soil in tact
Perennials- Small flower plants
Cash Crops- Money making plants/herbs that turn in a high amount of revenue for what it costs to produce
Weir, E. (2015, November 11). [Personal interview]
Perkins, Richard. “Setting up a Permaculture Farm – The Permaculture Research Institute.” Web log post. The Permaculture Research Institute. Research Institute, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. Retrived 07 Dec. 2015.