Lisa Kessler comes from six generations of farmers—they all just happened to do other things professionally. Prior to starting White Hills Lavender and Herb Farm in 2008, Kessler was a teacher and physician assistant. When she and her husband moved to the area to attend MCG, they knew they wanted some recreational land, so they bought a farmhouse in Dearing, Ga. Kessler had always wanted nut trees, so she planted hazelnuts in the orchard, followed later by pecan trees. Nut trees take a notoriously long time to fruit so, in the meantime, she threw lavender and rosemary in the ground to keep the deer away from her precious seedlings. Turns out, the iron rich, red mineral soil worked well for the lavender. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today the farm stretches over 30 acres, eight of which are under cultivation, with an acre and a half devoted to 14 different varieties of lavender, which fall under two main categories: lavendula intermedia, used in aromatherapy (see page 45) and lavender angustifolia, used in culinary applications. 

Kessler also grows a variety of herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil and calamint (a native Georgia mint), which, along with the lavender, she uses to create chef-worthy infused oil, vinegar, tea and salt blends. In order to reap the benefits of herbs, she recommends incorporating a little bit into your diet every day. The salt blends, which are pretty enough to leave out by the stove and use as a finishing agent, are a great way to do that. In addition to adding a smoky touch to everything from meats to roasted vegetables to soups, the Lavender Lapsang Smoky Salt packs loads of nutritive benefits: lavender adds antibacterial and calming properties; lapsang, a smoke-dried black tea, has a high antioxidant profile; and Himalayan sea salt contains roughly 47 trace minerals. The apple cider vinegar-based vinegar infusions are great as a brine for roasted meats, whisked into salad dressings or splashed onto fruit salads.

You can purchase pecans, tea blends, salts, vinegar, and through Augusta Locally Grown at augusta.locallygrown.net/market.

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a food writer, avid home cook and life-long professional eater. She has contributed toSaveur, Food Network, Mashable, Drinks International, CheeseRank and Clean Eating. Follow her culinary adventures on her blog, glassofrose.blogspot.com and on Instagram@theglassofrose andTwitter@glassofrose.


LAGNIAPPE

[A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA]
White Hills Lavender and Herb Farm is now offering tours, workshops and classes.

Once the farm started in 2008, word got around and during peak lavender season (April–June),
Kessler had about 40-70 people coming every Friday for tours, demos and lavender cuttings. A demand for classes soon followed, including a recent workshop on making spa-grade beauty products like lip balm, face oil and body scrub, using Kessler’s farm-grown lavender and herbs.

Be on the look out for winter classes, including baking (think: lavender-infused cupcakes, lavender sugar dusted shortbread and savory breads); ten key herbs for health, wellness and nutrition; and a new spa-grade beauty products workshop. Details will be revealed in January at www.whitehillsherbs.com and through Augusta Locally Grown.


SIP!

Humanitree House Juice Joint and Gallery

For co-owners Denise and Baruti Tucker, Humanitree House is so much more than a juice bar. “One of our biggest objectives is to share our passion, art, good food and good health with the community,” explains Denise. The vibrant downtown juice bar and art gallery represents both of their passions. Denise, an herbalist and holistic health practitioner, oversees the menu of juices, smoothies and tea blends, as well as a small vegan food offering, including a seriously tasty beet and black bean veggie burger and a logic-defying delicious massaged kale salad. Baruti, a talented artist originally from New York, presides over the gallery part of the space where his artwork and that of guest artists are on display. The concept is something they believed in so strongly that they started the business with an extremely modest sum money from the sale of one of Baruti’s artworks. His artwork also inspired the name: Humanitree comes from one of his  series called Humanitrees, which depicts paintings of humans intertwined with trees and nature, and is a style that is present throughout the space.

To say that the family-run business is hands on is an understatement. Baruti painted all of the shop’s murals, tables and surfaces with his fingers, no brushes, and Denise arrives at the shop by 4 a.m. most days in order to press the 150 bottles needed to stock the fridge daily. The 10 different juice blends are all made from organic produce, locally sourced when possible, and cold pressed in a Norwalk juicer, a method that allows for more nutrient preservation.

The top selling juice blend is Green Goddess. Packed with kale, spinach, celery, cucumber and lemon, plus pineapple and apple for a touch of sweetness, it’s a multi-tasking do-gooder that helps promote digestion, hydration and purification. The Green Party Lemonade, made with apples, spinach, cucumber and a little lemon, is popular among students, while the Cosmic Goddess, a beet lemonade sweetened with apple, is perfect for combatting that mid-afternoon slump and a go-to for Humanitree regulars with blood pressure issues. If juices aren’t your thing (though you won’t know until you sip!), there’s something for everyone on the smoothie menu.

But remember, Humanitree House is much more than a juice bar. Denise sums it up best by saying, “People come here not just for food or juice, they also come because it makes them feel good. It’s a happy space. We wanted everybody to be able to come here and find something that makes them feel good. That’s what I hope we’ve accomplished.”

Juices are available for purchase at Humanitree House (onsite and via pre-order and delivery) and through Augusta Locally Grown at augusta.locallygrown.net/market. AAR


ARTISAN

TRAIL RIDGE FARM & DAIRY

Trail Ridge Farm & Dairy in Aiken, S.C., started out as home school project with two goats, but when two goats produced more milk than seven people could drink, Kelly Hammond started to explore what else he and his family could do with the milk. They decided to try their hand at making goat’s milk cheese—and it was good, very good—eliciting the all-affirming response from family and friends, “You should sell this!”

Flash forward seven years and the farm, which is entirely family-run, has evolved into a Grade A dairy and certified cheese facility with 55 goats, 32 of which are milking goats. Trail Ridge Farm & Dairy sells raw goat’s milk (which is legal in South Carolina); chevre, a fresh, soft cheese; and feta, in both dry and olive oil-marinated form. The 22 varieties of chevre range from plain to herbed to sweet in flavor profile, such as Italiano Bravano, punched up with sundried tomatoes, garlic and basil; the herbal-leaning Lavender Blues, with a mix of lavender, rosemary, thyme and fennel; and Peaches and Dreams, a subtly sweet chevre perfect for spreading on bagels or toast. Many of the herbed cheeses are also great for cooking. Hammond’s favorite is the crushed red pepper-spiked Sicilian Coast, which he recommends pairing with grilled steaks and burgers.

In addition to its nutritive value, goat milk is a natural emollient, or skin softener, which makes it perfect for making skin care products. Trail Ridge also produces gentle goat’s milk soaps, silky body lotions and butters, and nourishing body and lip balms.

In Augusta, Trail Ridge Farm & Dairy products are available for purchase through Augusta Locally Grown

This article appears in the January 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.