Herbs are tremendously popular these days--from the smallest shop to the largest discount warehouse, you'll find medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, and herbal teas, baths, candles and aromatherapy essences. If you love the romance and mystique of herbs and you like gardening, then an herb farm might be just the business for you. You'll plant and raise your herbs, then sell them to wholesale or retail customers. You can also sell container plants or herbal products like soaps or vinegars. Some herb farmers operate pick-your-own fields where customers can gather their own plants. The advantages to this business are that it's just you and Mother Nature--this is real back-to-basics stuff, good for the body and the soul--and you can start from home, part time if you like. You can start out small, growing your herbs in a large backyard or renting inexpensive land, but keep in mind that your profits will also be small unless you've got two-digit acreage. You'll need a solid working knowledge of growing and nurturing herbs. If you'll be working several acres or more, you'll need to know farming techniques as well--commercial growing is different from coaxing along a few plants in a backyard border. You'll also need a firm grounding in the wholesale herb business--what's popular, who's buying it for what purposes, which herbs are best abandoned to agribusiness and which new herbs are likely to be the 'in' product in the next few years. (Since it can take two years to reap the rewards of your labors, you'll need to forecast at least this far ahead.) In addition to all this, you'll need top-notch sales and marketing skills to get your herbs in the marketplace and keep them there.
Your customers can be wholesale distributors buying for health product manufacturers, grocery chains and restaurants, or you can sell directly to these businesses yourself. You can target other SOHOs--artisans and crafters who work with herbs--as well as caterers; makers of beauty, health and skin care products; and natural-foods stores. You can sell potted plants to garden centers, florists and nurseries. And you can put your herbs directly in the public's hands by selling at farmers' markets and flea markets. Your best bet for selling to other businesses large or small is to develop a niche--a specialty that's fresh and new in your area--so that instead of competing, you've got an untapped market. If you want to go the wholesale route, contact distributors (which you can locate through herb and specialty foods organizations). To sell directly to SOHOs, take samples of your herbs to them and ask for their business. For farmers' and flea markets, contact the market organizer to find out about fees, then make space reservations--display space at some flea markets and swap meets can be very competitive, so don't wait until the last minute to make arrangements. If you plan on a pick-it-yourself operation, advertise in local papers and put advertising/directional signs on roads leading to your farm. (Make sure to get permission from land owners and local zoning authorities.)
First and foremost, you'll need a good chunk of soil. If you've got acreage, you're ahead of the game. If not, you can often rent land inexpensively--try power companies with fallow land beneath their towers or property owners with unused acres in rural areas of your town or county. One thing to watch for is that wholesale buyers of natural products may require your farm to be on certifiably organic land--one on which nothing was previously grown using pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. (This certification comes from a state agency or a private organization, depending on your state.) Next you'll need seeds and growing supplies. If you live in a cold-weather locale, you may want to invest in a greenhouse. You'll also need a pickup truck or van to deliver your produce to customers.