Matt Keefauver has a way of adding spice to your life. He does it by handing you a little bit of culinary paradise in a pot.
Keefauver is the owner of Tierra Madre Herbs, a small business that he runs out of his backyard, located in the city limits of Cortez. By using two small greenhouses and careful planning, he grows about 30 varieties of herbs and several hundred bedding plants each season. Initially focusing on growing culinary herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage, he eventually expanded his operation to include the cultivation of medicinal herbs and bedding plants such as heirloom peppers and tomatoes.
Keefauver grew up in a small farming community in west-central Illinois, where his grandfather and uncle were traditional farmers and he participated in the daily life of a farm kid. He is a fourth-grade teacher, but always has had a penchant for growing plants. His interest in herbs began with one packet of basil seeds that had a tremendous germination rate. Motivated by his abundance of basil seedlings, he created Tierra Madre Herbs five years ago.
Since its inception, Tierra Madre Herbs has used earth-friendly growing practices, such as organic soils and fertilizers, natural pest control and biodegradable plant containers. Keefauver believes any plant we might consume should be grown as organically as possible. So, he strives to find ways to make his business eco-friendly.
The special pots he uses are made of compressed rice hulls, and though an investment for him over the price of standard industry plastic containers, he believes they are worth every penny. Both handsome to look at and sustainable, with a life of two to three years, they can be reused and eventually biodegrade.
Keefauver's herbs are mostly perennials, perfect for planting in the fall or over-wintering on a sunny windowsill indoors.
Keefauver plans to expand his business by including more heirloom bedding plants and rare and unusual herbs customers may have difficulty finding. His heirloom seeds are obtained through Native Seed/
SEARCH, a Tucson, Ariz.-based organization whose goal is to conserve native crops by maintaining knowledge about their uses and distributing adapted seeds.
Keefauver is happy to promote the use of these ancient crops, contributing to the preservation of cultures of the Southwest. When asked what he enjoys most about Tierra Madre Herbs, Keefauver says, "The greatest reward in having a small business is that I can make many connections within the community and share some profit with community causes."
Each year, he sponsors the Poetry Corner at the Cortez Public Library and the Montezuma Land Conservancy Brew Fest. He enjoys selling his herbs directly to customers too.
"Meeting people in a vibrant and healthy atmosphere each week at the Durango Farmers Market has been an incredibly uplifting experience," Kee-fauver said. "I always look forward to Saturday mornings."
Marje Cristol owns Linnaea Farm in Durango and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses. She also serves on the Durango Farmers Market board.
Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.