Jim Long’s love of gardening began when he was 5 years old. Now decades later, he is enjoying where that love of gardening has led him. From his herb garden and herb formula development studio at Blue Eye, Missouri, he gets to make his living doing something that he loves to do.
In today’s age, when children are often quick to sue their parents for what many consider to be parenting mistakes that negatively affected their entire lives, Jim is quick to give credit to his parents for where he is now. Before Jim planted his first little garden at such a young age, his parents let him choose his own seeds from the seed catalog and order them right along with his parents’ seeds. They let him be in charge of his own little plot, and he says the most wonderful thing they did was to let him make his own mistakes and learn from them — whether they were little mistakes or huge ones. The 2nd most advantageous thing his parents did for him was to always include and feature his produce as part of family meals. They would make a big deal of the scrawny little radishes being served, or point out the half ear of corn or less-than-perfect tomato that had come from what Jim now calls his “pitiful little garden.”
Jim is like most career gardeners in that he has always been interested in plants. He grew more specific in that interest at a very early age when he developed an interest in herbs. He recalls being a 5th grader in his little town and carrying around a notebook so that he was always ready to interview older people about medicinal herbs. He had a keen interest in what different herbs did and the affects that had on people. His interest in herbs was further fueled by his mother, who came from a long line of cooks. She was one of 12 children that not only always cooked big meals but also grew herbs and used them in their cooking.
Jim recalls that his own cooking things from the garden began when he was only about 9 or 10 years. By the age of 13, he had started working in a local restaurant after school and on weekends. At age 15, he was helping to run a restaurant. As interested as he always was in gardening and cooking, he didn’t consider it as a profession until he was in his 20s. He was also interested in landscape architecture and after college started working for a landscaping company. Over time, he developed his own landscaping company that eventually led him to develop Long Creek Herbs farm.
Long before “edible landscape” was a common gardening term, Jim was creating them. The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy made the term popular and started a movement that is still going strong today. As a landscape developer, he always included edible plants into his landscape designs. His interest in cooking led him to include recipes with those edible plants in his designs. That eventually evolved into an herb farm.
Jim moved to Blue Eye in 1979 and started a little herb garden alongside his vegetable garden. He started with just 7 herbs and learned to grow and cook with them. Each year he would add different or more herbs. If he didn’t like an herb one year, he would toss that one aside and try a different one. Over the years, he has grown something between 200 and 400 herbs. Some of the herbs he collects from his many travels and others he gets from trading with other herb growers.
Like most gardeners, Jim has the ongoing challenge of deciding what to grow. However, his criteria for helping to make that decision is likely different from that of other gardeners. His first priority for a plant that he grows in his garden is that it needs to give something back to him in return. He considers the best return for his time and effort to be food, with beautiful flowers coming in as a close second. He doesn’t bother to plant just green shrubs because they simply take up space in his garden “without paying rent.” He touts the hibiscus and the rose bush as perfect examples for plants in his garden. The rose gives beautiful flowers, rose petals, and rose hips. It goes without saying that the beautiful flowers provide instant pleasure. What is not quite so evident to everyone is that rose petals can be made into delicious candy, ice cream, or other foods. Rose hips, the fruit that forms after pollination of the flowers, are rich in Vitamins A and C, as well as the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene — all believed to have human health benefits.
The Long Creek herb garden was becoming a showplace by the early 1980s, and Jim started giving garden tours. It was also around that time that he really started developing products using the herbs growing on his farm. Both of those events helped to lead him to where he is now. In 1987 he began writing his Ozarks Herbalist Newsletter that he published for 7 years. That grew into his being asked to write a regular column for The Herb Companion magazine. All the while, he was also concocting new herbal formulas, trying out new recipes, and building his herb shop.
Jim began hosting herb festivals at Long Creek in 1988 and continued doing that for 7 years until the festivals “became too big.” Although the festivals were hugely profitable, that was not the direction that Jim wanted his farm to continue. He didn’t want to bulldoze a hillside for parking or place portable toilets all around the property to accommodate the growing numbers of people attending. His re-evaluation led him to understand that his real love was to grow herbs, give tours and teach. He did, and still does, enjoy speaking to large groups of people, but didn’t want to do it at Long Creek. Now, he hosts groups of 10 to 12 people at a time, and by reservation only. The desire to teach about herbs sent him traveling from coast to coast and giving presentations. He found the traveling and speaking to be very exciting and fun, and he continued that for many years until he began to find the travel time to be increasingly wearying and tiresome.
The desire to reduce travel time and to develop a greater cyber presence has led him to internet sales that are now a main part of the business. His Nail Fungus Soak is his biggest seller both all over the United States and abroad. The development of that product is an interesting story in itself. Nearly 30 years ago, Jim was having a real problem with athlete’s foot and couldn’t get rid of it. He would go to a dermatologist, get treatment for it, and be better for awhile. But each time, the skin ailment returned after a couple of months to plague him. On his third trip to the dermatologist, his doctor friend suggested that Jim go home, use his herbal knowledge, and come up with something to help himself. He did exactly as the doctor ordered. He started thinking about herbs with anti-fungal properties and began experimenting. The eventual result was a formula that he used on his athlete’s foot. The condition disappeared and has not come back after all of these years. After treating his own skin problem, his father developed a nail fungus condition that the doctors recommended removing the blackened fingernail. Jim suggested his father try the herbal remedy first. It worked so well in clearing up his father’s nail fungus and his own athlete’s foot fungus, that Jim began packaging and selling it. Its popularity can be attributed to the fact that it works very well, but it is also an all-natural product. While there are many fungus treatments on the market, this one is totally organic and natural without any harsh chemicals to cause residual side effects.
Nail Fungus Soak may be Jim’s favorite formula to highlight, but he has many favorite herbs that he grows. One of his favorites is the often overlooked lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a perennial herb in the mint family. Lemon balm has both culinary and medicinal properties. While its oil is used as flavoring in teas, cakes, cookies, and other foods, its medicinal qualities are also notable. Its leaves contain natural chemicals that can have sedative, calming effects and is often used to treat anxiety, sleeplessness, and other related maladies. Jim points out that just smelling lemon balm, like lavender, can have a relaxing effect.
A close relative in the same family is lime balm, a similar herb with similar qualities and uses that additionally acts as a great pollinator. It contains bee attractants that makes it a favorite pollinator in fruit orchards. Jim is also a big basil fan and grows several varieties on his farm. Being an annual plant that doesn’t over winter in Missouri, it must be planted each spring. Jim doesn’t start his herbs from seeds, but purchases seedling starts and plants. Many of them he purchases from vendors each year at Baker Creek’s annual Spring Planting Festival in May.
Jim has always had a passion for writing, and the internet sales of his products allow him time to follow that love of writing about his interests that include sorbets, home remedies, hot sauce, etc. His books may be purchased online at www.LongcreekHerbs.com or in the seed store at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, Missouri. He feels fortunate that he has constructed his business in such a way that he can really enjoy life and gets to do what he loves.
Another of Jim’s passions is teaching others, and he highlights a project in which he is currently involved in teaching kids gardening. He is working with a magnet school in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The school focuses on health, wellness, and environmental sciences for 600 students in grades 1-6. He teaches the students about growing herbs and helps them set up their 3 school gardens. The school also has a commercial kitchen in which the kids can learn how to cook with what they grow, including making their favorite chocolate chip rosemary orange cookies.
Jim considers the most gratifying aspect of what he does is getting letters from people who write to tell him how much they like his recipes. He gets satisfaction knowing that others can have fun making things from the herbs and plants grown in their own gardens.
For more from Jim's garden, see: Basil Rose Pesto Recipe.
Kathy McFarland is a former English teacher and a life-long gardener who likes to travel, read, write and do almost anything outdoors. She is currently renovating her Hope Haven Farmstead in the Missouri Ozarks to make it more sustainable and productive.