Goodness Grows With Sarah Larkin
by Terry Ryder, October 30, 2013
Sarah Larkin is the brand new owner (two months so far) of a small local nursery called “Goodness Grows” at 11201 Anderson Valley Way in Boonville that was previously owned by Greg and Wendy Ludwig and called “Tin Man Landscaping and Gardening.” Walking through this sweet garden oasis with the butterflies, bees and birds all around has a tranquilizing effect. Grasses sway and flowers perfume the air while a bamboo fountain tinkles gently. Whenever I have come to this spot I have tended to forget what I was there for and found myself circling the garden in a kind of hypnotic daze. I recommend that you visit letting the place reveal it’s many charms to you. While you are there Sarah will no doubt approach you in her helpful way to share the garden if you prefer to have a guide.
How did Sarah come to be the mistress of “Goodness Grows”? The story begins in Western Massachusetts where she grew up in a rural area roaming hills, catching Monarch butterflies to hatch and generally learning to live close to the earth. Her mom loved to garden and raised five kids while running a number of home-based businesses. She really got into plants after college when she lived in the five college area. She and her roommate Nina would do “plant rescue” visiting dorms at the end of the year to adopt plants that students could not take home. She also had a roommate who worked at a flower/veggie farm who started a backyard garden that Sarah expanded and grew the three sister crops (corn/beans & squash). Nina was moving to California and Sarah came along and lived in Covelo for a few years. One of her Mom’s jobs was as a music booking agent and some musicians that Sarah helped with their tour after her mom died unexpectedly offered Sarah free tickets to the first Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. Sarah attended the Festival on what was her first trip to Boonville and she loved the place. Some of the musicians were rehearsing at Tamara Baxman’s house next door to Lauren’s and Sarah hung out there. At a later festival she sang onstage with Tamara and she ended up recording on Tamara’s album “Born Naked.” Ultimately she performed at the Variety Show where she met the other Sarah, Sarah Ryan. Within a year of the SNWMF she had moved here was in living across from the BV Fairgrounds. The Sarah’s and friends sang five killer a Capella songs at the Variety Show in 2011 (I remember seeing them and wondering where in the heck did these fabulous real singers come from?) as the Doobie Sisters. More recently the two Sarah’s teamed up to form at first “The Sarah’s” which morphed into “The Real Sarah’s” after they found out some other Sarah’s beat them to that first name.
All this background information is important as it very much informs the philosophy and ideas behind “Goodness Grows.” Once Sarah was established here she found herself very drawn to the “Tin Man” Nursery. She told me, “I just kept thinking of this place.” She wondered if they needed help and one day she saw a sign that said, “Help Wanted for watering.” Clearly it was one of those meant to be kind of things. She began watering a few days a week which grew into helping with sales. There is lots of watering to do — it is a hand run business in most ways. The musician Sarah was thinking she would like to go to the Woodstock Anniversary on a tour and she asked Wendy for time off. Wendy chose this moment to tell her that they needed to find someone to take over the business or they would probably close it. It was a big commitment. The Nursery is open seven days a week and Sarah has had only 5 days off since she took over as owner but she is really excited by the potential of the place. She said she decided to be brave and trust herself the same way that she became a musician by putting herself out there. She lost both of her parents, her mom at 53 and her dad at 61, and she thinks that this has made her want to really live her life and really do what she wants to do.
She told me, “I want to be the boss and put my mark on this place — to carve out my niche. I just love this place. I’m not ready to quit my day job so now I’m running my day job — life leads you — I am more afraid of losing this place than of being responsible. I am surprised at how driven I am. I am working my butt off. There are permits, licenses, taxes, payroll and vendors and all of them take extra time. Wendy and Greg are really helpful; they just helped me put new plastic on the greenhouse. Classes are a possibility especially around medicinal plants and connected to the medicinal herbal world. I’m a good teacher but I’m trying to stay grounded. It is a huge undertaking — this is a living breathing business and sometimes I’m floored. How do I organize? Lists are helpful. Things to do scratched off the list. I am trying to take things slowly and master each skill set. I am working long hours.” Sarah told me several times that when she gets overwhelmed she can hear Wendy’s voice in her head saying, “Tomorrow is another day.”
As far as the business goes she has lots of plans. She studied herbal medicine with Mary Pat Palmer, Matt Woods and a nine month Yerba Woman Aprenticeship with Donna D’Terra at Motherland in Willits. She definitely plans to plant a medicinal garden and have medicinal plants for sale perhaps including classes or workshops. She is researching and making her own medicines with seeds and starts for share and trade in the future. Since many of the plants sold at “Goodness Grows” are propagated at the nursery they are hearty and acclimatized to Anderson Valley. She has grasses, salvias, penstemons, lavenders — plants that hummingbirds and bees love. She offers a number of unusual plants that you cannot find at a large plant warehouses. Sarah told me that people often thank her for the nursery and that she feels loved and supported in her efforts. “People thank me and don’t mind paying a couple of extra bucks to buy local, although tourists do come it is the locals that sustain us. We try to be helpful and friendly. People want to hang out in the garden and do not want to leave. They feel gratitude and contribute by buying something beautiful. They want a garden like this. They wish they could take all the plants home. They say ‘You’re so lucky to work in a place like this.’ I just really feel lucky to be here and have this life. Sometimes people drive 2.5 hours each way to come to this nursery.” She told me she likes helping the beings who live in the garden from lizards to bees and birds. She said she doesn’t mind putting on three or four layers of clothing in the winter to be out in the natural environment instead of inside an office.
She wants to sell fruit trees, nuts, vines and berries because selling plants that can be used as food is a major priority that she hopes will contribute to a sustainable community. She has some unusual stuff like Seaberries which are bright orange and have ten times the vitamin C of oranges. Apparently seaberries are well known in Russia and Europe. She plans to plant them along her fence line. “I love selling an apple tree to a young family knowing that as the tree grows healthy and strong along with the kids they will realize where their food comes from and that it takes hard work to keep a tree going and growing. Local food suits my values. I am trying to lessen my carbon footprint. I support what’s happening in my own backyard by planting veggies. The food-based plants are community service — there’s not much profit in veggie starts but it meets our values. It is good to dig in the ground and grow your own veggies.”
She is already gearing up for spring propagating with cuttings. She told me that there is only so much time to grow your own stock and to make sure it is viable to establish in someone else’s garden. There will be bare root tress in January along with the seed and scion exchange. She plans to request a student intern from the Education Foundation’s program to help her this summer. She believes in giving back and will be happy to donate plants to local charity raffles. I heard her on the pledge drive recently helping out KZYX.
Some of you will remember George Bergner who had an apple juice tasting stand on the current site about 14 years ago. Wendy and Greg picked up where he left off and created a magical nursery. Now it is Sarah’s turn and she says, “I am so grateful to Greg and Wendy for this beautiful life and it was a delight and an honor to learn from them and to work with them — to call them my friends and for them to care enough to have handed me this gift.”
“Goodness Grows” is the name of a type Veronica flower and Sarah says that she choose this name because it is also an affirmation and it puts a stamp on her intentions. Having visited her nursery I can say that the goodness is already growing.