Fifty Shades of Green—Along with Blue, Purple, Yellow, and RedAug 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
April Hart and Bill Krovetcz agree—this was not the plan when they bought their eighty-five hilltop acres just outside of Elmira seventeen years ago. This, by the way, being a rambling, gloriously alive profusion of growing things—a multitude of fenced gardens interspersed with chickens, bees, dogs, prayer flags, paths, and potential. Initially, the couple travelled the traditional homeowner route. They spent a lot of time their first few summers mowing. That’s what you do when you have green space, right? You turn it into a lawn.
Then—“I got cancer,” says April. “That caused us to want to live differently. My whole life had to change from this time out.”
It did. Theirs did. She bypassed the chemo and the radiation, and “I didn’t get sick from treatments.” Bill, she says, is a really good researcher, and, using that research, they opted then to work with nature, with the “food as medicine” mindset, to help April heal herself. She remains cancer-free.
The next logical steps were to learn as much as they could about physiology, chemistry, biology, herbology, plant properties, what works and why, and then to share that knowledge. As they ventured into making a variety of plant-based products—teas, tinctures, infusions, and more—that would, they believe, help people “heal and thrive,” they found an ever-increasing circle of family, friends, and friends they hadn’t made yet, all benefiting from those products. Most of those products had their start in April and Bill’s gardens.
Needless to say, there isn’t much mowing anymore. That time gets spent in other ways.
Bill laughs when asked how many hours a week they put in.
“All of them,” he says.
This day, a hot one in July, they’re in the midst of a tincture production run (Bespoke Apothecary is a New York State certified production facility). Tinctures are an alcohol-based preparation of an herb. Every plant has different types of plant chemicals, Bill notes, and herbalists used various liquids to pull out those chemicals. April says that valerian (a plant with pretty pink or purple flowers, historically used to treat insomnia, migraine, fatigue, and stomach cramps), for instance, is not particularly water soluble, so it doesn’t shine as a tea. It does well as a tincture, however.
“We’re a big fan of tinctures,” Bill says, which is a bit of an understatement as they have 110 different herbal tinctures available at this point.
As for the teas, April is the go-to person. She’s put together fourteen different loose-leaf blends, and says she can offer people “pretty much what they need.”
As Bill says, they can fit the herbs to the people, and will, in fact, custom-create products. They like to do a consultation prior to that, and they’ll ask for a two-week “food and mood” diary, but can do a kind of “off the cuff” suggestion of products that could be helpful.
They also make creams and lotions, and a variety of infusions. With infusions, oil is the solvent used to pull out the plants’ chemicals, its healing properties, this after the plant has been properly dried. Bill and April use a dehydrator for that part of the process—slow and low, it can take two weeks to a month, depending on the plant and its moisture content.
The gardens where the raw ingredients for the Bespoke products grow include ten-foot-tall sunflowers sharing space with just-coming-up turmeric and ginger. They grow about 200 pounds of each per year. Turmeric and ginger are in the switchel they make and bottle—it’s a drink, kind of tangy and very delicious. You’ll find nettles in the gardens, tomatoes, culinary herbs such as parsley, oregano, thyme—April says they’re highly medicinal—milkweed alive with pollinators, berries, an asparagus patch, horseradish, mullein, birdhouses, even a pan of water for the bees.
“We wanted to give them a place,” Bill says. “They need water, too.”
They stress their belief in the importance of biodiversity, on sustainability, working with nature instead of fighting it.
“Everybody forgets about ‘take half, leave half’ [in nature]. We’re growing as much [of our own] as we can,” Bill continues. “We kind of interplant a lot of things.” They use hay or straw, or both, for mulch, as well as cardboard. Cardboard breaks down, Bill explains, and it’s one less thing to have to throw away. “We try to be responsible with our waste.”
“We just wanted to bring natural products, made with care and in small batches, to people,” April says. They believe prevention is a way better way to stay well than trying to cure what ails you after the fact. Try getting the jump on potential problems with a daily dose of switchel or fire cider. Fire cider is a medicinal/herbal concoction that’s a favorite of herbalists (both April and Bill are certified herbalists). It’s used to support the immune system and help keep seasonal infections at bay. Many of the approximately two dozen ingredients come from their farm, or near it.
As for seasonal pests, Bespoke offers a “99 percent effective tick spray.” Their tick and black fly repellent is made from essential oils such as eucalyptus citriodora and chamaecyparis nootkatensis. Sounds like they would knock a tick for a loop, doesn’t it?
There will be an open house at Bill and April’s farm, 300 Sullivan Crest Road, Elmira, on August 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’ll be vendors, twenty-two at last count, a food truck, and music. Bespoke Apothecary products are available at numerous locations throughout the Twin Tiers and via Delivered Fresh. You can also shop online. Visit bespokeapothecary.com to get the latest information on the open house and to see all the products available, or call (607) 426-0999.