Sanctuary Stewards: Sara Shoemaker and Thomas Brown
We are Sara Shoemaker and Thomas Brown of Forsaken Roots in Acme, Pennsylvania. Our farm’s name, “Forsaken Roots” comes from the idea of lost or forgotten ways. It applies to us in more ways than one could ever imagine. From our home, to our property, our antique letterpress/block printing studio, to our 1952 Ford F-1 pickup truck, we are immersed in revitalizing what is already here and creating new life with it all.
So far, we have designated 35 acres of our property as a Botanical Sanctuary. Our farm is part of a 500+ acre farm that has been in Thomas’s family for 212 years. Within the last 3 years we have by ourselves, begun to restore our portion of the property’s fields, meadows, and forests to encourage native plant growth.
In time, we will be holding guided plant walks and workshops for underprivileged children, children of parents that are mentally ill or suffer from addictions. By offering our sanctuary to them, we hope it will allow those that need to disconnect from chaotic environments to find the peace and comfort that nature offers. We also plan to offer our sanctuary as a place for homeschooled children to visit and workshops for them to expand their studies. The workshops will range from plant identification, learning the endangered or at risk plants, to creating simple teas and recipes with edible plants and more.
We have planted over 500 tree saplings of different native varieties the past two springs. We are just beginning our attempts to restore the land back to its natural state as much as possible. Each year we aim to plant more and more. Thomas and his brother Benjamin have been planting saplings throughout the farm’s acres each year for as long as they can remember in their lives.
We have planted native ramps (Allium tricoccum), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.), and trilliums (Trillium spp.), from credited trusted sources, as well as transplanted endangered or at risk species from areas that were to be clear cut logged or cleared out for roadways, home building, etc. We plant to continue with these kinds of feats as much as possible.
Last fall, we planted 2 acres of native wildflowers in a 15 acre meadow in which native wildflowers already have established themselves. We plan to cover the entire area with native wildflower beauty for a thriving ecosystem of pollinators and wildlife.
During the summer months we harvest small amounts of flowers from the abundant field and deliver them to several local businesses in our small community, and we sometimes take special orders for small private events. We sell small bouquets in recycled jars in the family farm store and donate a percentage to our local Watershed, Jacobs Creek Watershed. I serve on their board of directors, and our farm literally is the Headwaters of Jacobs Creek. We use the remaining portion towards purchasing more native plants and seeds and for our many restoration projects that lie ahead. We hope that by spreading these small doses of beauty with a message attached that it will become contagious and inspire others to do the same.
In the spring of this year we will be gaining the helping green thumbs of my twin Sister Jessi Shoemaker, who will be staying with us and helping us with activities and planting projects, and we have several volunteers who have committed to lending us a hand. To say we feel fortunate to have these wonderful people in our lives willing to their time and energy to help us is an understatement.
Our sister farm, Whoa Nellie Creamery has been working with NRCS in the last 2 years, making big changes to help conserve the land it occupies. We too have begun working with them to gain their assistance in taking the steps needed to create an even more biodiverse healthy native environment for pollinators and wildlife. And with the funding they will provide us, we will be able to incorporate into an Agro-forest area where we will grow an abundance of native mushrooms varieties, herbs, trees, blueberries, currents, huckleberries and more, as many of the over logged acres that have been taken over by invasive plant species and marshy areas are collapsing. We hope to replenish our property as close as possible back to its natural state.
We are also beginning beekeepers. We obtained our equipment from a local beekeeper and have befriended a neighbor who has been a respected beekeeper for many years as our mentor. We rescued a wild hive from a wall of a cottage that was about to be torn down. We will be harvesting the honey from our girls for a variety of nutritional and skincare uses. We are constantly asked when we will be selling our honey. We are starting small and will grow our hives slowly. Offering honey for sale will come with time, as we are focused more on creating strong hives and bringing back the pollinator population over making profit from them.
I (Sara) also create herbal goods that are in line with nature. I sustainably forage the medicinal and wildflowers growing in abundance for simple herbal recipes and as main ingredients to oils, salves, tinctures, infusions, and teas. Just by gathering the abundant medicinal plants and herbs that grow on our property, I have been able to create enough Simples for fully stocked cupboards for a lifetime of cold and flu remedies, first aid and pain ointments, healing skincare, hair care, oxymel vinegars and cleaning vinegars, dried herbs for teas, and nourishing infusions.
I use absolutely no essential oils in any of my goods. I am a learning folk herbalist furthering my knowledge of the green world as a Green Witch student of the renowned herbalist, Susun Weed. Susun takes the complexity out of learning the plants and their uses and puts a focus on Simples and taking the time to get to know each plant. I believe that no matter how much I learn, I will always be a student of the plants, willing to learn all that they have to offer.
Another element of our sanctuary is our cabin home. The 2400 square foot 3 story 1790s Pennsylvania hued log cabin, (originally a German church) is the kind of house we both had explored as children in museum settings with our family or by exploring abandoned places as children with our siblings. Both of us always dreamed of living in a home like we have built for ourselves.
We began restoring the cabin in 2012, after Thomas and his brother purchased the home that was in ruins from the landowner for $100. The 3 story cabin had to be cleaned out, disassembled piece by piece, and moved 60 miles from Somerset County Pennsylvania to our property that sprawls across the Chestnut Ridge of the Laurel Highlands (a short trip from the origins of the Mother Earth News Fair!).
We live completely off grid and lived in the basement of our home with no utilities and running water for a span of for two and a half years. We, along with the help of a few family members and friends have patiently created a beautiful, simple, and comfortable home that now has running water and solar electricity.
Around the cabin, we are slowly creating a perennial biodynamic yard. We let the weeds and plants flourish and spread as they would in the wild, thus creating an ecosystem for insects, wildlife, and plants to thrive and makes less work for us having little yard maintenance. Although we do grow some annual veggies, almost everything else that we are planting are perennials in areas where they thrive best in companion style making for a diverse landscape that attracts, bees, butterflies, and native wildlife and looks naturally beautiful at the same time. The connection between nature and people has been lost with modern society. We hope by sharing our story with others that we may be the green spark that ignites the path for others to find this connection in their lives.
If anyone would wish to follow our endeavors please follow us at: @forsaken_roots_ on Instagram. We thank you all for taking the time to read our story!
Onward for the greater good,
Sara and Thomas Brown