Mary Gonzales is well-known by many weekly shoppers at the area farmers’ markets. Offering a refreshing variety of field-grown flowers and medicinal herbs, this farmer has found a niche with her home-grown business, Sweet Mountaintop Farm.
Sweet Mountaintop Farm grows their two-acres of herbs and everlasting flowers in-between the avocado orchards of Rincon Mountain. Gonzales grows herbs for medicinal healing in several forms—from fresh herb bundles to dried herb varieties and blends. Gonzales also makes hydrosols, essential oils and tinctures, fresh plant matter infused in organic alcohol that is potent and used for aromatherapy.
“Some products are for external use, some for internal use,” said Gonzales. “Some people prefer to take medicine through the skin using herb infused body oils. Others who prefer not to drink tea may want to try a tincture. We have different ways to prepare medicine to be accessible to all sorts of people.”
Sweet Mountaintop also makes garlands with strawflowers, known as a type of everlasting flower that dries well. The everlasting flowers are fashioned into various products such as wreaths, jewelry and flower crowns.
Gonzales’ interest in herbs was something she came to intrinsically, she noted. “There are signs everywhere that draw you in. You dream about it and wonder why you are so interested. Maybe you’re drawn in because it’s your life path. Maybe that’s why I’m here and that is my purpose.”
Before starting her own farm, Gonzales used to be a baker in Los Angeles. Along with a couple friends, she traveled around to meet people in funky spaces and different living situations. After moving back to Carpinteria, Gonzales co-authored “A Tiny Mess,” with Maddie and Trevor Gordon. “A Tiny Mess” features recipes and stories from people cooking in their small kitchens in boats and trailers. “I was living in a little 22-foot travel trailer, and then I moved back to this area to live on a trailer on my dad’s farm,” she recalled. “Growing up, I always helped out at the farm for my dad. We worked out a deal where I exchanged work for rent so I learned how to do irrigation for the farm and to prune the avocado trees. I had a plot for my own garden and I just became addicted and fell in love. It’s hard not to be so in love with it.”
On being a farmer and owning her own business she remarked, “it means relying on all the elements, it means time investment and money investment and gambling with the seasons and the weather. It’s 24/7 never-ending work. You don’t get time off. You have to take care of your animals; the plants need to be watered; there are plants to be harvested. Then you need to figure out where to sell all your stuff… It’s something no one can explain to you and you can’t understand until you own your own business and experience it for yourself. So, we rented a couple acres off my dad’s property and we took off from there.”
Gonzales now seeks to provide the same learning experience for others. Sweet Mountaintop now has an internship program where they teach women how to farm and grow medicine. “I want to give women a chance to learn how to farm,” she said. “You have a lot of women up here and everyone is excited and there’s so much energy. It makes me excited to work. The farming market feels like such a masculine environment, and it’s hard for women to get jobs as farmers. I think times are changing. People are realizing it’s important to shift the energy. Decades ago, females were the farmers. We were the keepers of life and it’s an important role to maintain.”
Gonzales has accumulated her repertoire of herbal knowledge through self-taught learning. She commented, “I’ve learned so much from books. I also believe in following intuition, your inner knowing, ancestral remembrance and being with the plants. You can’t learn much unless you are around the plants. I get knowledge from the plants just by having a daily ritual around them and growing plants on a larger scale. Your plants are your biggest teachers.”
For Gonzales, it’s important to understand that herbal medicines require time and consistency, but they can provide many benefits to whole body health. “People want instant results and it’s hard for them to remember that,” she said. “There are herbs that are stress relieving, herbs that will help you adapt to stress, to help you sleep, to not get sick, to help your respiratory system… We grow a lot of varieties used for multiple purposes. Unlike individual prescriptions, one herb has so many medicinal properties. People are used to taking one prescription for each symptom, but with herbs, each plant has a wide range of benefits.”
Gonzales recommends starting with one herb at a time to feel it out individually. “It’s important to know what you’re working with,” she said. “You have to create that relationship. It’s like being in a new relationship where you have to get to know somebody and spend time with them.”
To learn more, visit sweetmountaintop.com.