After checking in with her staff, the rancher heads back inside to check the email and work on her social media marketing efforts so that she can build friendships and get new clients. Next she heads back out to the ranch to harvest, process, package and ship the product that gardeners all over the social networks are buzzing about; Authentic Haven Brand manure tea.
Manure is Annie's passion and her paycheck, but she succeeds by taking the ultimate dirty job and then doing it very, very well. Her cows are fed a diet of native chemical free grasses, and all the manure is packed by hand into attractive tea bags with professionally designed labels before they're shipped off to boutiques, garden centers and homeowners nationwide.
Her cult following just can’t get enough of what they call 'Moo Poo Tea’. Rosarian Chris VanCleave uses it exclusively for his award winning miniature roses, orchid growers spray it on their prized specimens and legions of vegetable growers rely on it for healthy crops.
Her mission is to revive the age-old practice of gardening organically with compost teas, thus carrying on the Haven family legacy. Annie and her compost stuffed tea bags are a living link to over a century of America's horticultural heritage, and her 150 years worth of documents, photos, order forms and seed catalogs from her family's company are a daily reminder.
"It started back with my great grandfather Edwin Haven" she explains. Haven Seed Company was founded in 1853 in Bloomingdale Michigan, but by 1910 they had set up operations in Orange County California where they continued to supply treasured varieties of tomato seeds for the lavishly decorated catalogues of Burpee, D. Landreth and Comstock Ferre. It's very likely that your tomato seeds are the offspring of seed stock sold by Haven Seed Company long ago.
Today Annie is betting it all on cow chips. While most manure is a messy and smelly proposition, Authentic Haven Brand manure tea is fragrant, convenient and mess free. You simply steep the 'tea bags' in water for one to three days for a 100% organic liquid fertilizer that can be used to spray and water plants as often as desired.
That pleasant aroma is all thanks to the cows' grassy meals. Cows' digestive systems are meant to process grass, but most farmers feed them corn instead corn instead which makes the cow produce more smelly methane gas and leaves them more susceptible to E. coli bacteria. Annie advises that customers should still wash their hands after handling the manure tea, just as you would with any other fertilizer.
Annie's cows have never even known the taste of corn, so her manure tea is 'cleaner' and smells more pleasant as a result. With no machinery to cross contaminate her manure with hormones or pesticides, she can guarantee the same quality in every tea bag.
It was Annie's father Paul who started selling manure tea to local farmers in 1928, but when in 2003 he was killed in an auto accident, it was Annie and her brother Paul Jr. that would carry the torch. Together they collaborated on creating the branding, marketing elements and packaging that are still used today, and they even used their father's cattle 'brand' symbol as the starting point in the design.
Her world was again turned upside down when Annie's brother passed away in 2009. Annie was left not only heartbroken and lonely, but without any marketing experience to keep the business afloat.
But then the old fashioned rancher found an unlikely ally in what was then a new social media platform, Twitter. Annie introduced herself to the internet as "A woman rancher in Southern California with a 100% natural garden product" and was soon accepted with open arms by an enthusiastic community of gardeners. Using nothing more than a dial-up connection, she built her business on social media.
Her ever-present smile dissipates when she tells me about the untimely demise of Ecke Poinsettias; once America's greatest Poinsettia supplier and just a stone's throw from Annie's ranch. She explains how her grandfather and Mr. Ecke were good friends back when the Ecke family dominated the poinsettia industry by closely guarding their secrets for compact and attractive plants. That all changed in the 90's when those trade secrets were published, allowing other growers to flourish by growing them overseas. In August of 2012, Paul Ecke III sold what remained of his family's empire to a Dutch group.
Though rising giants like Proven Winners are a short drive away from Annie's ranch, many of the great seed catalogs, nurseries and farms in Southern California have suffered the fate of Ecke and Annie worries that her once-great family name will fizzle into distant memory.
Shortly after Annie's brother passed away, a group wanted to invest in Authentic Haven compost tea, but with a caveat: She had to give up her traditional methods in favor of automation and machinery. Turning them down was incredibly risky but Annie stood her ground and continued to make a product that she could stand behind.
Right before I spoke with her, Annie returned from a successful speaking engagement for the Los Angeles Rose Society with a broken fuel pump and farm insurance bills made higher by record breaking drought. Still, she reads me a shining testimonial of her compost tea and celebrates what she calls a "another champagne cork popping moment."
|Carolyn Binder and I brewing our Moopoo Tea|
To learn more about Authentic Haven Brand compost tea or to make a purchase, visit www.ahavenbrand.com. If you've tried it for yourself, let me know in the comments!