AmericanFarm.com

Virginia herb farm now ‘destination’

By JANE W. GRAHAM

Beagle Ridge Herb Farm snuggles deep in Matney Flats, a flat place between Lick and Henley mountains, and proves people want to learn about all kinds of agriculture and nature.
Ellen Reynolds operates the farm which has drawn visitors from 49 states and 15 foreign countries, including Israel, India and Siberia, to enjoy Virginia’s mountains, the peace of her herb and flower gardens and much more.
The directions on Reynolds’ advertising materials give a good idea of how far people are willing to travel for the experiences Beagle Ridge offers.
“Route 21 S from Wytheville approximately 10 miles,” they begin. “Left on Route 690, Cripple Creek Road.  Go 2 miles; turn left on Matney Flats Rd.  The farm is 3.5 miles on the left.  The first mile is rough but improves closer to the farm.  When you get to the private property sign, keep coming, we are 2 miles ahead.”
Beagle Ridge is an example of a couple combining their interests and discovering they could do something special with what those interests would bring.
In a rocking chair interview in the little store where she sells her herb-based beauty products and related items, Reynolds traced the growth of Beagle Ridge and the unexpected turns it has taken.
The couple was living in North Carolina when her husband, Gregg, began looking for some property where he could hunt.  He found a 72-acre plot in the mountains of Wythe County in 1992. They began coming to the farm on weekends and along the way moved to Covington, Va., where they lived for 10 years.  During that time they continued to weekend here.
“We had no clue what we wanted to do,” Reynolds said.  The house on the property was in the shade and she wanted to do something sunny with her plants. For this reason, they acquired more land in 1998 and built their house at Matney Flats. In 2010, they moved to the farm full time.  Gregg found work at Glade Spring in a nearby county as an environmental health and safety manger for a local company.
“I went to a couple of agritourism conferences and realized we had potential,” Reynolds said.
Over the years, the potential has been realized as the endeavor has grown to offer many different plants, activities and once-in-a life-time experiences. Reynolds grows organic herbs and perennials and mostly native flowers for butterflies. There are display gardens, herbal products and herbal tea as well as shade-cloth covered butterfly house.  She offers herbal lunches, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Reynolds manufactures a line of bath and body products in very small batches. She is specializing in lavender although she offers other fragrances.  She uses in her products goat milk obtained from a friend, she said.
Her products are sold at her shop and to other vendors.  They recently went on sale at Hearthwood in Abingdon, Va., the recently opened cultural center for Southwest Virginia. This has given her agribusiness a boost in word of mouth advertising, Reynolds believes.
Reynolds’ emphasis on lavender is apparent around her farm and business, as all things purple are in evidence.  She always wears a purple shirt and her eye glasses have a purple frame.  Many of the items in the shop feature blooming lavender.
Education is a priority for Reynolds, who says she teaches “lots and lots of classes.”  She offers classes and workshops as well as wildlife viewing, in-school programs, and festivals and events. She is affiliated with the Master Naturalist Program and teaches about anything in nature, she said.  She brings in local experts from the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to help in her educational programs.
The business has developed over time with additions that increase the appeal for visitors.  In 2010, a 24-foot by 48-foot butterfly house was added to provide a home and display for native butterfly species.  In 2012, the couple built Serendipity, a venue for weddings and other social events, educational program and other meetings.
Reynolds reported that the farm is open to the public Thursday through Sunday.
“On closed days we have groups,” she said. These include garden clubs, groups doing strategic planning, book clubs, church groups and such.  One of the regular summer groups is the Southeastern Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute which meets each summer at Radford University and visits Beagle Ridge for lunch and a tour of the butterfly house during the event. On the day of the interview, Reynolds was expecting folks to arrive to set up for a 40th wedding anniversary party in Serendipity.
Even growing her plants has turned into a way to aid local education.  Beagle Ridge has begun acquiring its plants from the agricultural department of nearby Fort Chiswell High School.  Growing the plugs gives the students hands on horticulture experience and a way to raise funds for their department, she indicated.
Most of the visitors to Beagle Ridge are tourists, Reynolds acknowledged.  She said someone traveling thinks a 30-mile side trip is less out of the way than someone living in the community who thinks five miles is too far to travel.  Many visitors return, she said.
She feels her agribusiness contributes to the overall economy of Wythe County as people spend money on hotels, meals and other attractions and services.  As the county is home to the intersection of Interstates 81 and 77, it is half-way on many people’s trips to somewhere else and a good place to take a break, she indicated.
The farm offers a 4.5-mile hiking trail and, for those who don’t hike but want to experience the forests and mountains, Lick Mountain Excursions, a ride in a six-person covered ATV.
The popularity of this excursion and the farm was emphasized during the interview when a grandmother and her visiting grandchildren returned with the children’s mother to show her where they had been and to make some purchases in the store.
Reynolds keeps up with the horticulture industry as a whole, attending conferences and reaching out to others in the industry.  She makes it a point to attend MANTS each year to learn and share.  It is one of her favorite things.
She reported a frequently asked question is about the name. “Why Beagle Ridge?” people want to know.  She said when they lived in North Carolina they had beagles and a friend asked “are the beagles going to run on the ridges?”   They took the name from the question.  She said the beagles are now buried on the mountain where they used to run.