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Saving the Farm

For generations our family grew mint on their farm. Then the economy crashed, and we were left with nothing but faith.

Jim and Linette Crosby

It was September harvest season, and it felt strange not to be out in the mint fields I had worked all my life.

But that day I was doing the only thing I could. I was inside our downtown office, packaging one of the three orders we’d gotten for mint oil. I tucked the bottles inside the box and made sure to include the fourteen-dollar receipt. Then I stamped the outside of the package with the message we had faithfully sent out with each of our shipments for months: Expect Miracles.

That’s what it was going to take—divine intervention—for my sister, Linette, and me to get back the family farm we’d struggled to hold onto, only to lose to foreclosure several days earlier. It was land four generations of Crosbys had grown mint on, and the only life I’d ever known. Then because of one missed payment the bank called all four of our loans, six hundred and fifty thousand dollars in debt. We’d made a counteroffer, but it was rejected.

This office was our fallback, a place where we could try to sell our existing oil inventory over the internet. But it wasn’t the same without my great-grandfather’s green fields of spearmint and peppermint stretching to the horizon. The tractor I had driven since I was nine years old. The intoxicating smell of the plants—that incredible, soul-stirring fragrance—that couldn’t be fully captured in a bottle of oil. Whatever this was that we were doing, it certainly wasn’t farming.

We had a core group of loyal supporters, one of whom had given us the “Expect Miracles” stamp. But we needed more business. A lot more. And with Michigan’s economy in a deep recession, I couldn’t see that changing anytime soon.

I sat down at the computer and logged onto my Twitter account. Sooooo wish I was out harvesting mint, I typed, but we’re open for business and have plenty of oil for sale. Thanks for your support. I hit Tweet and sent it out to my followers—all 20 of them. I was trying every way I knew to get the word out. We had posted YouTube videos of our final days on the farm, shared our sorrow with a few dozen friends on Facebook. Been interviewed by newspapers and TV stations as far as Detroit, 100 miles away.

A few months ago I’d connected with a chef and culinary instructor in Lansing, William Nicklosovich, aka Chef Nick. He was interested in cooking more with mint. But I wanted his help for another idea—making the world’s largest slab of mint fudge, more than 5,200 pounds. A surefire way to get publicity, right? Maybe even a spot on Letterman or something.

It took working 72 hours nonstop and the help of Chef Nick’s students, but we did it. The local media covered it. Letterman never called though. So much for my blockbuster idea.

Two months later the judge issued his final foreclosure order. He gave us three days to pack up and get off the farm. It was the middle of our harvest season. We worked ’round the clock cutting and distilling all the mint that we could, but there was just so much we couldn’t get to. God’s miracle? We were still waiting.

I clicked over to my calendar. I had an afternoon interview scheduled with a radio station in Ann Arbor. Later in the week a speech to a local farm group. I checked my e-mail again to see if any sales had come in. Zilch. I loved nothing better than talking about mint. After all, everyone knew me as Peppermint Jim. But it wasn’t paying the bills.

God, I prayed, I need your help. Bad. I don’t know where this is going.

I was sure God had something good planned for my life. But what? I didn’t know how much longer I could wait.

The next day there were five orders waiting in my inbox, one from a woman in England. “I’m praying for you,” she wrote. I was grateful, but England? How on earth had she heard of us?

Each day a few more orders came in from locations all over the country, and even from Germany and France.

“A friend sent us an e-mail about you,” a woman from Seattle wrote. “Saw your latest video on YouTube,” a man from St. Louis sent, along with his purchase of three bottles of oil.

But it was people’s testimonies that touched me the most. “I used to have horrible migraines,” a customer wrote. “But now the minute I rub your mint oil on my temples they go away. It’s truly a miracle.” I’d thought of the stamp as mostly a prayer for my family and me. It was humbling to think of it giving hope to others.

One day in October I got to the office and found 75 new orders waiting for me and another 50 voicemails! People wanting more information, reporters wanting interviews, groups wanting a speaker. Linette and I worked late into the night to complete all the orders. Only now when I stamped each package with Expect Miracles, I dared to believe it was actually happening.

The next day there were 100 more e-mails. “We can’t do this alone,” I told Linette. A couple of our friends volunteered to help. Soon there were 10 of us working every day but Sunday.
I was busy packing a box one day when Chef Nick called. “I’ve cooked up a mint sauce you’ve got to try,” he said. It was mouthwatering. “Do you think people would buy it?” he asked after I tried it.

I’d never thought of selling anything but oil. “There’s one way to find out,” I said.

I put the sauce in our online shop. It was an instant hit. We thought of other foods we could make: a salad dressing and, of course, fudge. We posted recipes on our website, everything from cookies to mint iced tea. I was hearing from groups across the country inviting me to talk about mint and sustainable farming. Maybe this was the new path God had planned for me.

 December was our busiest month ever, with more than 5,000 orders. But the bigger news was that the bank decided to put our farm up for auction.

The highest bid was less than our counteroffer. By law we had the right of first refusal.

An angel investor agreed to give us financing if we could come up with twenty-two thousand dollars. We did it with the help of two friends who agreed to partner with us. I knew there would be many tough months ahead. It took every penny we had. But I wasn’t worried. God would provide.

There was snow on the ground when Linette and I walked through the mint fields just minutes after we signed the loan papers. We couldn’t help but do a happy dance. We even captured the moment on video and posted it on YouTube. I imagined our newfound customers watching from all over the world. I wanted to share the joy.

This year we’ll celebrate our one-hundredth year of growing mint at Crosby Farms. We’re much more than a farm now. We sell everything from mint sauce and fudge to spritzers and candles and, of course, pure mint oil. I travel the country telling our story. And we have a new stamp now that goes on every order: Witness Miracles.

Try some Mint Iced Tea!

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