Gathered Threads is a small family farm-based business located on 6 acres in Nelson County, Virginia. The inspiration and hard work behind our eclectic little farm comes from Katherine Herman, who has spent 10 years as a vegetable grower in the northern Virginia Valley, and Central Va area before venturing to start off on her own. Her interest in farming began while she lived and worked in Tanzania as a Peace Corps Volunteer 2001-03. Returning home, Katherine sought an apprenticeship on a small scale, sustainable vegetable farm. She discovered Tree and Leaf Farm, which she would call home for 8 years. Through farming at Tree and Leaf and learning from owner Zach Lester, she developed an enduring appreciation for and connection to plants of all kinds. After Tree & Leaf Farm, Katherine moved to the Valley to be farm manager at Radical Roots Farm. She spent 2 years there while finishing up school at Sacred Plant Traditions. While at Radical Roots and at Sacred Plant Traditions, Gathered Threads began to take shape in Katherine’s head. She remains focused on both perennial and annual plants, including herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruits, shrubs, and trees. Katherine loves the challenge of propagating seeds and plants, which for certain herbs can be quite difficult. There are flats containing seeds in our greenhouse which won’t germinate for several years! Though not yet certified organic, we are personally dedicated to growing all plants sustainably without the use of any pesticides, insecticides, or chemical fertilizers.
Katherine began a journey with herbs around 2005: first as a client to acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, in an eventually successful effort to correct an unidentified disease (possibly Lyme); and then in 2009 when she began to grow and to study herbs more formally. In 2013, Katherine completed a 3-year course at Sacred Plant Traditions in Charlottesville, Va under herbalist Kathleen Maier, where she trained to become an herbal clinician. Her experiences there lead to her conception of Gathered Threads, a small farm-based business focused on the production and propagation of medicinal herbs for the local market area. Gathered Threads is a small farm where you can meet the grower face-to-face, and local means you can make an appointment to meet your herbs while they are still growing in the earth, soaking in the sunshine and Blue Ridge mountain air, and see the methods we use to dry and process everything.
The abundant harvests she enjoyed during her full-time work as a vegetable farmer led Katherine to experiment with both ancient and traditional methods of food preservation. Vegetables fermented naturally are an extremely healthy addition to any diet, and in many cases are more nutritious and beneficial than their raw counterparts! The basic process is simple: chop vegetables, add salt and water, and ferment until the acidity of the brine reaches a target pH level. It is similar to pickling, but instead of adding vinegar from another source, we basically produce our own, living vinegar that is filled with probiotics! What happens in the solution is that the natural bacteria and yeasts in the air and on the vegetables try to grow in the warm temperatures and wet, nutrient-rich environment. However, because we add a proper amount of salt, the growth of lactic-acid-producing yeast is overwhelmingly favored. Most bacteria can’t grow well in a high-salt environment, but these yeast can, and as the yeast multiplies it causes the solution to become increasing acidic, and almost nothing else can grow in both a salty and an acidic environment, so the food is preserved and protected from spoilage even at room temperatures! Though we do refrigerate after the brewing is complete in order to maintain a fresh taste and crisper vegetables. The one thing that can spoil a good ferment is mold, so we make sure to stir frequently while our veggies are warm and brewing. Katherine has been fermenting and experimenting with cultures since 2007. She is still is coming up with new recipes and combinations, many based on those from traditional cultures, and enjoys those golden moments when a new combination comes together!
In 2012, Katherine undertook formal studies in Foot Reflexology, which is a traditional wellness system in which the various organs of the body find corresponding regions mapped out on each person’s foot. The practice is to give a specific type of stimulating touch to the feet, while looking for and working out any areas of tightness, which acts to relieve stress on the corresponding organs. In the spring 2014, she completed her National Reflexology certification. Still wanting to learn more, Katherine began a Hand Reflexology certification course later that year.
Katherine began sewing as a hobby in 2000, and has since completed over 20 quilts and numerous other projects. She enjoys making tote bags from donated and recycled materials, wallets, and other unique items such as herbal travel bags and knitting needle cases. She attributes her interest and passion of sewing to the time spent with her late grandma Geraldine.
Katherine’s husband Ralph had worked as a local truck driver until the state’s lockdown measures cost him his job. We are trying to run our farm together now and after 6 years of progress it looks like we may be able to let the off-farm work go! Construction projects, visionary and creative ideas, novel concepts, and wasteful expenditures of both time and money are all his forte. He enjoys working to achieve harmony and efficiency in human-scale, simple, low-energy, and quirky personal machines for living through interesting times. He has struggled through his life with an undiagnosed allergy to gluten, a fact which he discovered only after meeting Katherine and being inspired by her struggle with what she believes to be Lyme disease. It is his opinion is that the larger society has become overly complex and is increasingly unreliable, and that in general the more things we can do for ourselves, and in community, the better.
Ralph has built a “small” 100 sqft walk-in cooler under the roof of an existing barn, which is now being replaced (supplemented?) by a larger 400 sqft stand-alone structure which resembles more a cottage than a cooler, one with no windows of course. Since being let go by his company in March, he has made great progress on this project, with completion planned around December 2020. Efficiency should be very good, there are 2 foot thick walls that are to be filled with cellulose fiber, which is shredded recycled paper products, with an estimated R-80 insulation value. In the understory below the cooler is now equipment storage on a dirt floor, but planned is a small mushroom propagation laboratory and grow room! Gourmet/medicinal mushroom growing is Ralph’s new hobby for this year and growing addition to the Gathered Threads smorgasbord.
Katherine, with the help of a friends and family, has built 4 greenhouses already on our property; two larger gothic-style (14′ x 48′) high-tunnels where we are growing mainly fall/spring crops in raised beds, and two smaller caterpillar-style (12′ x 45′) hoop-houses, one of which is being used as our propagation area for our seed starts and cuttings, with the other being used to house our custom-built, one-of-a-kind, kind-of-strange, solar-powered herb dehydrator and adjacent dry herb processing area. We try to keep energy usage as low as possible and do not use supplemental heating for our greenhouses, with the exception of localized heat in early spring to keep sensitive seedlings from freezing, only heating the covered areas protecting these plants inside the propagation greenhouse. Ralph is very much about direct-solar heating and good use of insulation!
In winter this year 2020/2021 we are building our big greenhouse! There is a nice 3000 square footer on order which will help Katherine up her game with propagation and plant sales. After 6 years of propagating plants out of a small hoop-house we are very much looking forward to having a nice big greenhouse space to work in.
We are blessed with two children, Nathaniel and Margaret, aged 4 1/2 and 3. They are amazing little farm helpers, one minute, and the next they are, well, about what you can expect from kids their age!
Gathered Threads has been an amazing, difficult and rewarding journey. Katherine and Ralph, and hopefully their two children, are looking forward to the adventure ahead!
Hope to see you at market!