A small organic family farm in Greenbank is growing herbs and turning them into essential oils using solar power.
Whidbey Herbal is owned and operated by Caitlin and Sam Stanton, a couple who moved to Whidbey Island from Portland, Oregon in 2017. They were looking for property to start a farm in Oregon but happened upon a house with 10 acres of land on the island.
“When we drove off the ferry we kind of knew we were home,” Caitlin said. “It’s so beautiful here.”
The house was built by a Finnish family in 1914 and had fallen into disrepair when the Stantons purchased it. The great-grand nieces of the original family owned it but they lived in Seattle and didn’t come to the island very often.
“That was great for us because we were looking for acreage to start a farm with the house in any condition,” Caitlin said.
Before moving to Whidbey, both Caitlin and Sam were in the maritime industry. Caitlin was a deckhand for Foss tugboats and Sam was a chief engineer–or boat mechanic, in layman’s terms.
In Portland, they had a small garden which Caitlin described as a “micro version” of their current farm. Using Sam’s knowledge as a chemistry major, the couple would distill herbs that their neighbors or local farms had grown. But their dream was to grow and distill their own organic, locally grown plants.
“We just saved and saved and found this place, and we’re giving it a go,” Caitlin said.
Sam was still working on tugboats until November of last year. They said 2022 was the first year they “went all in” on the farm.
Now their property is full of lavender, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, calendula, chamomile and several other medicinal herbs.
After harvesting the plants, the distillation process begins with filling a drum with the herbs, then pushing steam through it at a low pressure.
“The steam carries away the natural plant oils,” Sam explained.
The steam is then recondensed into two products: pure essential oil and hydrosol, a gentle botanical water. Whidbey Herbal uses the hydrosol and essential oils for scents and diffusers and sells them on their own.
The oils taken from the plants are aged from three to 16 weeks, then are hand-bottled and ready for sale.
The farm has a large solar panel bank on the farm to power the distillation process.
“We’re trying to just make something that’s not only fully from Whidbey Island but is also really light on the planet,” Caitlin said.
Right now, the Stantons are working towards expanding into other types of products like infused oils, candles and tinctures.
To help run the farm, the couple has two “farm interns” or “WWOOFers” who discovered Whidbey Herbal through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a network that facilitates homestays on organic farms.
Rylan Johnson and Sara Berlowe live on the Stantons’ property and work on the farm for about 25 hours a week. Johnson came all the way from Iowa to learn about organic farming by working at Whidbey Herbal.
“I wanted to harvest lavender really badly,” she said. “I have a strong interest in lavender and herbs in general.”
Berlowe, who is from Chicago, also wanted to learn about herb and mushroom farming, as well as oil and tincture making.
“I discovered their farm on social media through WWOOF a year ago and it was like circling through my mind for a year,” she said. “Then I finally reached out.”
Caitlin and Sam both were “WWOOFers” on farms in their 20s and said that the program helps organic farms succeed and is a great educational experience for the workers.
More recently, Whidbey Herbal has also started to grow mushrooms. Over the winter, Sam got a book on mushroom farming for Christmas and decided to build a growing lab.
“The idea that there’s so many varieties of mushrooms that we could grow here and get to eat was really appealing,” he said.
He was able to produce their first harvest of mushrooms on the first day of the Bayview Farmers Market last spring and it was a huge hit. Ever since, Sam has been scrambling to keep up with the demand.
“Last weekend we sold out in 15 minutes,” he said.
People have been coming early to the farmer’s market just for a chance to snag some of their lion’s mane, oyster and chestnut mushrooms.
“That’s one of the great things about starting a farm on Whidbey is the community is so supportive and really into local food and local products,” Caitlin said.
Even though there are a lot of farms on Whidbey Island, the demand for locally grown food is still high.
Whidbey Herbal products are available on their website at whidbeyherbal.com, at the Bayview Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, and at four local stores: 3 Sisters Market in Coupeville, Madrona Supply Company in Clinton and the Bayview Farm and Garden and Flying Bear Farm, both in Langley.
On July 30 and 31, the Stantons will be at the Cultus Bay Gardens in Clinton for the Summer Arts and Crafts Market.