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Hope Hill and how they've grown--of agritourism and donkeys

Hope Hill Lavender Farm: this sweet-smelling veteran farm is growing agritourists and a loyal customer base in Schuylkill County

The farmers are Troy and Wendy Jochems of Pottsville, PA. Troy, a Desert Storm veteran with 25 years in the beverage industry spent time around horses in his early life. As an adult, he rescued 4 year old Captain, and later, 1 ½ year old Quarter horse Mac that Wendy, a veterinary technician, told him about. When Troy acquired Mac, Wendy came with him, and the rest—as they say—was history.

The farm: They purchased their farm in 2004 because they didn’t want to board off the horses property. Like most PA veteran farmers, network, Troy works full time off farm as well as working the lavender operation with Wendy. Before transitioning to lavender, the farm was home to 17000 Christmas trees and in a phased plan was leased back to the tree grower until 2010 so that as the trees matured they could be harvested. While the original plan was to grow hay for their growing family of equines, the cost of haying equipment was prohibitive, so Wendy and Troy did extensive research and learned that there was a niche market for lavender not yet saturated in PA. Agritourism had not yet boomed in PA, and since then Hope Hill Lavender Farm has become a model of the smart way to draw visitors to their farm and convert them to buyers.

Hope Hill produces essential oils and bath and body products from the variety of lavender grown on site; lavender plants; bundled lavender for sachets, bouquets, and culinary use; and raw honey. They even distill their culinary lavender to make ice cream, available at the farm during the summer.

Agritourism: The farm is host to a shop, farm tour, paint and sips, make-a-mug workshops, and more. Two horses, a pony, and 3 donkeys are popular fixtures both on the farm and act as Hope Hill’s social media ambassadors. Visit the website to see their farm visit rules.

Learning lavender: Key to the Jochems’ success is the careful research they did to identify a marketable product with appeal to consumers with disposable income, and one with staying power. Lavender has been cultivated for over 2500 years for personal and culinary use.

Challenges: Troy says they’re still and always learning; the recent very wet weather has impacted their farm as it has so many throughout the Commonwealth. Since lavender loves a drought, this has been a thorny challenge this spring.

As an experienced business owner for over two decades, Troy has the expertise to analyze markets and cost/benefits, but for those just entering the field, a realistic business plan is vital. While the farmers are happy to oblige requests from other veterans on farming and agribusiness in general, they wisely keeps their trade secrets close to the vest and recommend those interested in setting up a lavender operation get involved with the US Lavender Growers Association.

Protecting assets: The Jochems use the services of Erie insurance for product and farm liability. They advise others who plan to invite guests or volunteers onto their farm property to spend some time brainstorming any and all worst-case scenarios and talking through them with your agent to ensure you’re covered adequately. On the advice of their attorney, the farm is set up as an LLC, which Troy states is easy to set up and cost effective and easy to set up—they used LegalZoom. They also have a good accountant to affirm that they are working sales tax correctly. See Cornell's "Getting Started in Agritourism" and other resources on our site.)

Product Pricing: Hope Hill products are priced in such a way that they never have to be put on sale to clear out back stock as doing so de-values the product. Since lavender is time-sensitive other than a few shelf-stable items like candles, there’s no need to clear out old product to make way for new. In addition to the on-farm shop, they sell at markets and online.

Creating an “American made” connection with consumers: Hope Hill Lavender Farm emphasizes that their products are 100% American-made, including packaging. (The exception is some ingredients from France and Italy for specialty vinegars.) Even when they must pay more—such as for Anchor Hocking glass products, or higher quality t-shirts sourced from a firm in Harrisburg—they feel the payoff is worth the investment for the consumer base they’ve cultivated. Hope Hill is a Homegrown by Heroes and PA Preferred farm.

Marketing must-do’s: While they’re active on Facebook, they view it primarily as a way of connecting with consumers, while their website does the heavy sales lifting. Their photogenic donkeys have been key to growing organic reach on social. Troy: “People want to poke into your

lives on Facebook. They don’t want to see paid ads. They’re people watchers—they want to see what’s going on on your farm. We stick the donkeys up there, keep it light—Facebook isn’t meant to be a serious thing. Instagram is about pictures—incredible pictures give you brand recognition.”

“You have to have a website.” While they originally built and managed their site, last year made the decision to contract this out. “You have to find out what your time is worth,” and managing a website isn’t always a good time investment once a business is established. “If means allow, hire someone to build, manage, and optimize your website for SEO. “ But do your homework: the first designer they used built a beautiful site but was unreliable for maintenance. Their consultant has taught them how to track web analytics, resulting in 60% of sales from web traffic inbound from google. “Learning google [analytics] is a bear, but learn how to use it and it will pay off.”

Beyond digital, Wendy and Troy encourage other veteran farmers to seek out free PR through local news media. They’ve also seen the value in paid advertising, which in their case has resulted in additional free media coverage.

Tapping into free resources for conservation practices: Troy and Wendy have accessed free technical assistance through NRCS, which can lead to cost shares. NRCS has designed their manure management and their 4 acre pollinator field, a 3 year project. NRCS also helped them

with pasture management, automatic waterers, and elevated walkway for horses and donkeys.

Connections: Hope Hill Lavender recently hosted a nature walk featuring a retired DCNR forester. The shop was the site of an NRCS professional meeting; they rented the space for a nominal cost, but having NRCS staff on the farm was an opportunity for additional free, valuable technical advice. Whether farm guests are there for a tour or for a professional meeting, once there they often become buyers.

Contact Troy and Wendy through their website or facebook page.

Media coverage on Hope Hill Lavender Farm:

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