The Gaia Farm Year-round
Our fields may not be full of pink flowering Echinacea or the bold orange of blossoming California Poppy, but the work continues year-round at the Gaia Farm and Greenhouse – both above ground and underground. The activities we undertake in the fall and winter on the Gaia Farm are a springboard for ensuring another successful growing season on the Gaia Farm.
Fall & Winter Farm Activities
Harvesting at Peak Potency in the Fall
The cue that the active growing season is dwindling down appears in the Gingko Leaf in September/early October: the verdant green hue of the leaf is subtly changing and on the edge of transforming into its pale-yellow shades. This observation informs us that the phyto-chemicals are at their peak, and this observation is validated through our in-house testing methods for potency. We follow the long-held herbal tradition of harvesting plant roots in the fall, including Echinacea (purpurea and angustifolia), Ashwagandha, and Valerian roots. When the seasons start to change and the cold snaps set in, plants transfer their nutrients from their leaves into their roots to preserve their strength and withstand the colder months ahead, giving us roots that are large, healthy, and full of potency. This is another example of science confirming a deeply held cultural tradition in herbalism. This is another example of science validating a deeply held herbal tradition in herbalism, harvesting plant roots in the fall.
Saving & Planting Seeds
Fall is also the time that we collect seeds from our farm for our Gaia Herbs Seed Bank. We save seed as much as possible at the Gaia Farm – the future of our global food and herb supply depends on it. Hundreds of varieties of seeds have been lost over the years due to large seed corporations only focusing on a handful of varieties. By saving seed, we are not relying on the larger seed trade, but we are stewards of our own supply and can depend on growing future generations of medicinal herbs.
Building Healthy Soil
We build healthy soil year-round through our regenerative agriculture practices, and the winter time is no exception. As soon as our fields are harvested completely, we plant a winter mix cover crop that contains winter rye, hairy vetch, and radish. Cover crops ensure that the productive capacity of the agroecosystem is maintained and is an essential component in regenerative agriculture. By building our soil, we are not just supporting the surrounding ecosystems and the quality of our herbs: More and more research indicates that an answer to reversing climate change is through regenerative agricultural practices. Through regenerative agriculture practices like cover cropping, we build soil that is rich in organic material, which acts as a carbon ‘sink’ and captures the carbon from the atmosphere and puts to put this carbon back into the ground. More carbon in the ground is good for us. It creates healthier soil full of microorganisms, contributes to a more biodiverse ecosystem, and produces plants that are more nutrient dense and resistant to drought.
Fall is also the time when we say goodbye to our trusted Farm Crew, who are the reason that all of this work is possible. Our Farm Manager, Jorge Mendez, has been with Gaia for over 20 years. In those years, he has recruited many of his community and family members from San Luis Potosi, Mexico to come to Western North Carolina. Each year, our Farm Crew comes over through the H2 visa program, where they earn a living wage (Gaia is a proud Certified Living Wage employer). At the end of October, our farm workers are getting ready to head out, and are making sure that the farm is ready to rest for the winter season. This month, we see many of them returning – signaling that spring is just around the corner!
The Gaia Greenhouse: Home to Gotu Kola
At the end of the growing season, we take our Gotu Kola out of the field plant it in flats and take these to our Mills River Greenhouse to overwinter, where it self-propagates. Gotu Kola is traditionally used for mental health, memory, and clarity.* In the spring, these flats will be planted back in the field, and this process will begin again – one we have been doing for 20 years. For now, our teams that work at the Mills River office are savoring being able to walk into a warm greenhouse, full of vibrant Gotu Kola.