Article original appeared December 19, 2015 in The 11th Hour by Nicole Thurston. Read the original here.
I cover a lot of stores and businesses around middle Georgia, but this story is a little bit more personal. You see, Olive Forge Herb Farm is more than just a place to buy herbs, teas, pottery, or infused skin creams, it is a place of healing. Owned by Marsha and Darryl Herren, Sr, the farm is just north east of Macon, right across the Baldwin County line. The first time I ventured out to find this place I thought I was going into the middle of nowhere, and it is kind of like that. Nowhere, yet exactly where people say they need to be.
I first met these self-proclaimed “two old hippies,” back in December of 2011. Not a lot of money in my pocket, but I wanted to search out healthier alternatives to cooking and google-searched “organic farms.” It took me straight to Olive Forge. After almost passing their tiny sign on the left side of the road, I meandered up an old dirt drive way, passing a beautiful pond, acres of trees, and finally found a little wooden cottage at the top of the hill. Out came this long hair, bearded man with a welcoming smile and right behind him was a petite woman with the kindest eyes. They welcomed me not only into their store, but into their home. Something they do for just about everyone who visits. Armed with some hot African red bush tea and personal guides, I was shown around the shop and home. As close to living off the grid as two people can, the Herrens created a unique shopping and living space in middle Georgia. They bought the property in 1981 by phone, sight unseen. When they arrived, they had very little.
“We had an outdoor kitchen, hearth, oven and smoker,” Darryl explained, “Our frig was a Styrofoam cooler and our stove was a Coleman camp stove.”
“We had brought an old single wide trailer that did not have walls on two sides,” laughed Marsha, “So we put a tarp on those.” The couple would build their home over the next six years, never borrowing money, and doing all of the work themselves. They had an interest in gardening and wanted to use plants as preventative medicine. They met a Selma Irwin while working at Georgia College. She introduced them to herbs, in particular how to cultivate what is native to Georgia.
“She gave us a sprig of rosemary one day and said if you root this, you’ll have something you can cook with, you can make tea with, that will fight insects, and is a powerful antioxidant, and you can use it for aroma. We were hooked.” They went on to root that sprig and have that plant to this day. It is 40 years old. “That just opened that world for us,” explained Marsha.
According to the Herrens, the original business plan was to live off of their investments (side note: they are very shrewd in understanding the stock market,) and while Darryl wanted to read all night and sleep all day, Marsha thought sleeping all night and running all day was a good idea. Turns out, selling their plants and becoming walking plant encyclopedias has become a way of life.
Though I could go on and on about how Marsha is a wasp whisperer and how Darryl can identify just about any bird that flies by his window (they document migrations for Cornell in their spare time,) I would rather you experience their stories for yourself, because that is half of the experience.
There is a big brown oak table in their dining room, and often they will put on a pot of tea for guests and serve up Marsha’s famous lavender cookies. “We have had some glorious times around that table,” smiled Darryl. “Marsha says that everybody that comes is either bringing a gift, or they need a gift.” As retired social workers, they continue to share their philosophy into their herb business.
“From day one the prayer for Olive Forge and continues to be is: May the Great Spirit that moves through all things move through Olive Forge in such a way that all that come here would see the Spirit and want it for themselves,” said Marsha.
As you can see, Olive Forge is more than just a farm, it is an experience that the wayward traveler stumbles upon, and as some tell it, will change your perspective on the world. If you ask anyone if they know the Herrens, most will reply that they are good friends of theirs, and that pretty much sums up what the farm is all about. Two old hippies, living out their dreams and sharing it with the world.
Though Olive Forge has shortened their business hours and no longer sells plants, you can still purchase herbal teas, cooking herbs, oils, find skin creams, and essential oils, as well as shop works of folk art from over 30 local artists. They only accept cash and personal checks.
You can follow them on Facebook, or visit the farm at 161 Browns Crossing Rd NW, Haddock, GA on Saturdays.