Anna Hackman has accomplished a feat that many only dare to dream of: She changed careers, trading suits for overalls, and founded her organic-herbal farm, The Naked Botanical.
Her five-acre farm in Mendham, where she lives with her husband, real estate investor Bob Gelber, inspired her curated collection of feel-good tonics, teas, salves and spices, which are sold in stores, at fairs and online.
How did she do it?
Sit down and take a sip of tea as she shares her story:
I left real-estate law when my kids were younger because I couldn’t find consistent child care. Eighteen years ago, my husband and I decided to build a green home when this was just becoming a thing. It took two years to complete because finding vendors was tough. I decided to start growing vegetables because it was sustainable. I started with five heirloom tomato plants that I ordered from California. Being new to gardening, I planted them in July, which is far too late. That first year, I got only three tomatoes. I was so thrilled that I froze some of the seeds, which I still have. I plant one to two of them every year because I love the taste of these tomatoes and it reminds me of how far I have come.
That success led me to expand my garden. I started with broccoli, lettuce and beans then over the years added strawberries, chamomile, which gets beautiful flowers, and assorted vegetables and herbs. I ordered nine apple trees from California; they were called “trees,” but they were only twigs when they arrived, and a friend of mine gave me nine raspberry stalks because she didn’t know what to do with them. Today, I have over 44 raised beds planted with everything from squash, lovage, mint, peas, tomatoes and a host of medicinal herbs. I also have elderberry, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes along with multiple in-ground herb beds.
I was growing things that people didn’t grow, and my initial idea was to provide food for my family, so I learned to can and preserve. Soon, I had so many herbs that I started selling them in bulk on Etsy. I still had too much left over, so I started making teas and asked people I knew to taste test them.
Next, I started selling at farmers markets and craft fairs. One product led to another because people who go to these fairs always want something new. Plus, I was forced to invent new products because some years the plants just overproduced.
Case in point: Two years ago, my apple trees produced so much fruit that I made 75 gallons of cider. That was the genesis of my simple syrups: Apple Chai Simple Syrup and Apple Ginger Turmeric Shots joined the family.
I make my products in a commercial kitchen, and I do most of the work in the garden myself. A couple of guys help me mulch and compost, and I have a part-time assistant. My husband helps with the digging. Sometimes my kids join us.
An average day on the farm is chaos; it really depends on the month. I don’t have a greenhouse. I have a hoop house, which has no heat, so I grow a lot of plants indoors with Grow Lights. My hoop house is reserved for plants that need more heat than our summers bear, such as ginger and turmeric.
All of this sounds like fun—and it really is or I wouldn’t be doing it—but it’s also a lot of work. For instance, I hand-strip my herbs, throwing out the stems, which don’t have any taste. Doing this can take an eight-hour day. Nobody, I mean nobody, does this. And I store everything in vacuum-sealed bags so that after the herbs are cut and dried, they will stay fresh and fragrant for years.
People often ask me why I call it “The Naked Botanical.” It’s because everything I grow is certified organic, and I don’t use artificial or natural flavors in my products. It’s naked: It’s the real deal. My motto is “Get Naked. Be Happy!” I’m so happy on my farm that I want to make other people happy, too.
Although my herbal products have healing and medicinal properties, I don’t really push that aspect because I want you to enjoy them and be in the moment. I want to give you five seconds to slow down and say of “You can do this and return to your life refreshed.”
When you cook a meal or drink a cup of tea, it’s a Zen moment where you can step out of yourself. And my products are yummy; I’m focused on taste because it makes you happy, it puts a smile on your face in a world of full of anxiety. That’s why the colors of my packaging are bright and happy and the names—like “Lovage or Leave It” and “Kick Back and Chill”—are goofy, just like me.
My greatest joy is seeing people being happy. Sometimes, people write me, telling me that I have really helped them; that’s my greatest reward. I’m constantly thanking my customers because this is not just a business, it’s joy to me.
Learn more at TheNakedBotanical.com.
My motto is “Get Naked. Be Happy!”
I’m so happy on my farm that I want to make other people happy, too.