By Mike Templeton
Appalachian Ohio is just a short drive east of Cincinnati, and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition pays close attention to what is happening just beyond our city. We are especially excited to hear about places like Mucky Boots Farm—a place where modern agriculture and natural preservation meet with some delicious results. Heather Jobson and Elizabeth Barr began their work at Mucky Boots Farm slowly and just as naturally as the things they grow. It was simply a desire to get back to the land for Heather, a desire shared by Elizabeth, that led them to begin searching for a place in rural eastern Ohio. “I grew up in a rural area,” explained Heather, “and after some years in Cincinnati working as a librarian, I just wanted to get back to a rural life, and Beth was on board with it” she continued. They searched for quite a while before finding the farm they now tend and live on. Located in Adams County, in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, what would become Mucky Boots Farm was primarily an experiment in its earliest stages.
A large part of what Heather and Elizabeth do is driven by their personal investment in preserving the land. Heather and Beth are organic farmers, and this means working with the natural balance of their land.: “We have transitioned some of the cattle pasture into perennial berry crops, put other tracts into native pollinator conservation plantings, and established a small vegetable plot. It’s important to us that the soil health and species diversity improve under our watch.” Mucky Boots Farm is nestled among the preserves that make up the Arc of Appalachia, another concerted effort at preservation and land reclamation. The work of Mucky Boots Farm is part of the same drive to preserve the land and ecological balance of Appalachian Ohio.
Both Heather and Elizabeth had experience growing things prior to taking on the farm. Heather told me: “Beth and I had always grown things; we had always had a garden; the prospect of growing things was familiar to us.” An organic gardening fellowship at Grailville combined with growing their own things gave them the basics for what it would take to begin farming. As to what to farm, that just took some listening to the land.
Doing some searching online, Heather and Beth saw that people were buying Elderberry syrup online. “We looked around and saw that Elderberry was growing wild on our farm. The land led us to what to do,” Heather explained. “We thought might be able to make some money and work well with the land.” What makes Mucky Boots Farm unique is this drive to work with the land.
Elderberry has an earthy flavor. It is not overly sweet and tends to be tart. People often blend the syrup with other fruits like apples and strawberries. Many believe elderberries have medicinal properties and can boost the immune system. The next step was developing a product. Taking a plant such as this that grows wild on your land and turning that into a marketable product is quite a leap, it turns out. Heather said this process was a constant state of flux. Trying to develop a product, learning about marketing, finding a commercial kitchen to transform elderberry into elderberry syrup—all of this has taken time and hard work. But Mucky Boots Farm is producing.
They have also begun to produce elderberry flower syrup. This has a different flavor profile. Heather Jobson said people asked for elderberry flower syrup at markets where they sold their products. It turns out elderberry flower syrup is what gives the liqueur St. Germaine its distinctive flavor. In their blog, Heather and Beth explain that they have been experimenting with the elderberry flower syrup in their own cocktail mixes. They describe the flavor of the flower syrup as “variously floral, grassy, fresh, musky, and honeyed.” Mucky Boots Farm has also branched out into organic garlic.
You can buy all Mucky Boots Farm products online (the link is below). Heather Jobson and Elizabeth Barr also bring their products to markets around the area like the Pawpaw Festival, the Loveland Farmer’s Market, and the Sunflower Festival. Although not without their share of struggles, their farm and their business are growing. Heather told me: “We are looking at the possibility of becoming employers soon” as the business expands. All that they do is guided and grounded by some deep commitments to the natural world. In their own words, Mucky Boots Farm works the way it does:
- Because wild specimens are already growing here
- Because we are confident we can grow them without harmful inputs
- Because they are a native plant that supports the insects and animals that live here
- Because they are a perennial that won’t require tilling or other practices that would erode our hilly slopes
- Because it is an intriguing flavor, new for the American market and has room to grow
- Because science has shown it to be high in antioxidants and thus helpful to the human body
- Because humans have eaten them for a long time, so why not now?
In the heart of Appalachian Ohio, and just a short drive east of Cincinnati, Heather Jobson and Elizabeth Barr are creating a space of modern agriculture that works to preserve the best of Appalachian Ohio. Mucky Boots Farm produces elderberry syrup, elderberry flower syrup, and fresh garlic, and they do this by remaining in harmony with the natural systems of southern Ohio. In fact, the work they do at Mucky Boots Farm takes its place next to other natural preservation efforts in the region. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has a long-standing commitment to environmental preservation and justice, and we are grateful for people like Heather Jobson and Elizabeth Barr for their work in preserving Appalachian Ohio as they offer the native fruits of the region to help us all get a taste of what is so special about our small circle of Appalachia.
The website for Mucky Boots Farm can be found at this link: https://www.muckybootsfarm.com/.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iskra Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.