A Jamesport homestead’s journey from horse farm to Eden of herbs

Tom and Nicole Williams on their farm in Jamesport. (Credit: David Benthal)

The winter months brim with potential at Herricks Herbs & Heirlooms in Jamesport, a certified organic farm that specializes in seedlings, compost and medicinal herbs.

The rows of carefully plotted raised garden beds outside the homestead are barren of greenery and the greenhouse lies in wait of plantings before spring’s blossom in the coming weeks.

But life persists.

Worms housed in a nondescript wooden container on the far side of the greenhouse are working their magic, creating the cornerstone of all the organic plants, seedlings and herbs grown and sold at the farm: healthy soil. Vermicompost, or worm castings, is one of the elements at the heart of the operation.

Owner Nicole Orens-Williams began producing vermicompost as a natural extension of the chemical-free horse manure compost she’d already been making entirely from resources found on the seven-acre property.

Organic growth is a term that describes both Orens-Williams’ farming practices and the operation itself. The natural progression of the self-started homestead into a commercial nursery was gradual and stems from her passion for the outdoors and horses.

In fact, in 2001, when she purchased the original home and its three-and-a-half-acre lot, she had no plans for an agricultural business at all.

“I just wanted a little acreage for my horse farm,” Orens-Williams said. “I had one horse at the time. I had moved in here by myself. The second thing I did was to get chickens, and every year it has just grown.”

From 2001 to 2004, she continued to add little by little. During that time, she also met and married Tom Williams, a Mattituck native who shared her passion for nature and hard work.

“Nicole has always been an avid gardener and the [plantings and herb] farm all started with a little greenhouse behind our house,” he said. “At the end of one season we had all these leftover plants she didn’t just want to throw out, so we put an ad on Craigslist and people drove from all over to buy them. It was a huge success.”

Herricks Farm

The farm specializes in seedlings, compost and medical herbs. (Credit: David Benthal)

Orens-Williams soon added raised garden beds outside the greenhouse. The couple then purchased the neighboring three-and-a-half-acre lot to the north to accommodate a larger greenhouse, an herb garden and a meadow for pollinators.

“The things I wanted to grow, I really couldn’t source readily so I had to start them all myself,” she said. “People came from all over Long Island to get my little leftover plantings and I thought there would be a calling for it … I wanted to do more.”

Today, Herricks Herbs & Heirlooms provides customers with a locally grown connection that stretches beyond the traditional farm stand. There are no seasonal stocked shelves where visitors can purchase pre-picked tomatoes or arugula. The couple prefers to encourage the community to grow it for themselves using resources from the farm.

Along with the help of their 9-year-old daughter, Maxine, the family grows and sells heirloom veggie and herb starters to home gardeners, school gardens and local landscapers — and urges them to keep the seeds for the next year. The plantings are all grown in the chemical-free horse manure compost and vermicompost, which is rich in natural, growth-promoting nutrients. Both composts are also available for purchase.

Each product is a tool to foster a grow-your-own experience that can be had in your own backyard.

“We want to connect people with nature,” Orens-Williams said. “It is about growing. We go over how to grow and how to harvest it.”

Among the distinctive aspects of the North Fork farm are its organic medicinal and culinary herbs. Orens-Williams, who began building the organic herb garden in 2017, offers more than 20 varieties, from kitchen staples like basil and garlic to harder-to-come-by herbs such as elderflower and echinacea during the regular season. 

An herb share and garden membership helps people get the most from each offering. Similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, Herricks Herbs & Heirlooms’ share program guarantees a box of herbs every week throughout the harvesting season — at a discounted rate that non-subscribers don’t receive.

In the weeks leading up to spring, Orens-Williams is hard at work organizing the farm’s education workshops and annual plant sale, scheduled to run May 17-19 (pre-orders are available at herrickslanefarm.com). The three-day sale has more than 150 varieties of certified organic heirloom veggies, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, perennials and pollinator attractors.

For Orens-Williams, it’s also an opportunity to spark interest in community growing as a whole.

“I wanted the garden to be a place where people can see these types of plants growing, and hopefully be inspired to grow them and use them, too,” she said. “If everyone could see how great these herbs are and walk through this beautiful garden that hums with life in summer, and learn how easy they are to grow, it would be helpful for them and their families. It would be a good thing for the community.”

Herricks Lane Farm is located at 81 Herricks Lane in Jamesport

czaweski@timesreview.com