With more than 160 years of farming and ranching, the Haven family has grown deep roots in the state of California. However, the biggest product coming from the Haven farm these days isn’t produce, or even the grass-fed beef. It’s the manure teas processed from the cows, along with the farm’s horses and alfalfa.
Annie Haven, great great grand-daughter of the company founder, has made quite a name for herself with these teas. Authentic Haven Brand soil conditioning teas have been featured in media like Better Homes & Gardens and Country Gardens, as well as 16 garden books. Today, she is well-known throughout the gardening world and is a popular speaker.
As many farmers branch out into other products, such as cottage foods or farm tourism, I spoke with owner Annie Haven to see what advice she might be able to share.
Q) Tell us a bit about your family’s farming and ranching history in Southern California, Annie. The Haven family has been around for a while, haven’t they?
Annie Haven: The Haven Seed Company was founded in Michigan in 1853 by my great-great grandfather George W. Haven, and was incorporated by my great grandfather Edwin Haven in 1873.
Editor’s Note: George Haven’s brother was Erastus O. Haven, president of University of Michigan, starting in 1863. Haven Hall was named in honor of him.
The search for good soil eventually brought the seed company’s growing operation to California in 1904.
Our family company had growing operations in Lodi, the San Joaquin Valley and down to Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano and San Onofre in Southern California. The Haven Seed Company warehouse – where produce was crushed for seed, dried and packaged – was located on Edinger in Santa Ana.
The seed warehouse was specifically engineered and designed by my Grandfather Archibald Haven (and built by the Flour Brothers). There weren’t any air conditioning or heating in those days, so climate control was extremely important. Granddad designed the building with honeycomb walls, making it perfect for drying seed.
The family company grew produce for seed, and shipped to customers like D. Landreth Seed, Atlee Burpee and Compstock Ferre, to name just a few. The Haven Seed Company became a world leader in the seed trade industry.
Our specialty crop was tomatoes and we grew more than 90 varieties.
Q) How was the Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo Tea born? As a rancher and farmer, what made you decide to branch out into other areas?
Annie Haven: Manure tea was my family’s source of nourishing the soil. There is the saying in the Haven family that “It’s All About the Soil” – from our pastures to our fields. Without viable soil you have nothing.
We harvested manure from horses and mules, which pulled equipment through the fields, as well as livestock raised to feed the workers. The manure was harvested, processed, packaged and then brewed in large tanks to flood irrigate the nutrients back into the soil.
As large-scale growers of seed, for the wholesale trade, manure tea made it possible to maintain the nutrient level needed to raise produce and ensure quality seed crops season after season.
Haven Seed Company scaled back in 1968, due to a lack of water needed to sustain a large-scale growing operation. We were also being squeezed by development moving into Southern California.
My father Paul Ives Haven continued farming and ranching on a smaller scale. He marketed his produce, citrus and hay through our roadside stand at the ranch in San Juan Capistrano. Customers visiting the stand would often ask how he was able to produce such high quality produce without the use of herbicides.
It was at that time we knew there was a new market for our premium soil conditioner teas. I started selling Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew premium soil conditioner teas to the local market (as a brewed product). The age of the internet dot com opened up a new store front for me, which gave me access to specialty growers and home gardeners.
Before I could reach that market, however, I had to create the packaging you know today as Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew premium soil conditioner teas. (Pre-brewed tea does not have an extended shelf life, so this product is brewed, as needed, by the user.)
Originally, the manure tea bags for large-scale production looked like large pillow cases. But I knew I had to reduce the size of that packaging to make it consumer friendly. I wanted customers to brew Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew “fresh” for their gardens, just as we did for our growing fields. There was a lot of work involved to create the right packaging, which would be consumer friendly for the houseplant enthusiast, home gardener and large specialty grower.
Q) What advice would you share with other farmers and ranchers, who are looking to expand into supplemental product areas?
Annie Haven: It’s important to know your product and your customer base. Reach your customers via roadside stands, farmers markets and specialty events. Get your product into the hands of consumers and listen to their feedback.
Don’t take negative feedback personal; instead use it to enhance your product. What has worked for you, may not work for the consumer, so their feedback is extremely important. Grow slowly. Don’t quit your day job, and remember you may have to take on a second job to accomplish your goals.
Q) You personally reach a lot of people via social media – including nearly 15,000 on Twitter and about 6,000 on your personal and business Facebook pages. This social media has turned into considerable exposure for your company over the years. How have you used social media to build your business? What tips do you have for other ranchers or farmers?
Annie Haven: Social Media has become my only source to connect with growers and home gardeners, who are seeking a more natural way of growing. Social Media allows you to connect and self-market your product.
My computer screen to me is now the same as the front door on a brick and mortar store.
Q) What worries you most about the food system?
Annie Haven: This is such a hot button issue, especially in California.
I’m concerned about the amount of fallowed farm land, due to the political drought bumped by Mother Nature’s drought. The more farm land that is fallowed and lost to development the harder it will be to regain this valuable farm land again.
Q) What inspires you?
Annie Haven: I’m inspired by the power of social media. It’s giving me the ability to connect one-on-one with my customers, regardless of their locations. It’s pretty much like being back at the old family roadside stand where you can interact and share directly with others. That inspires me.
Thanks for your time, Annie. Best of luck to you.
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