Designing a business that smells oh-so sweet
In one sense, Norma DeCamp Burns moved a far piece from teaching and practicing architecture a few years ago when she began devoting herself full-time to Bluebird Hill Farm in Chatham County, NC.
But on her farm the former NC State University College of Design visiting professor and FAIA Emeritus has only gone deeper into design and teaching.
Bluebird Hill Farm is at once a business, a school, and a design laboratory. And now her farm is being spotlighted as a model for others.
Burns’ green business is one of two initial recipients of a ShadeFund Entrepreneurs loan administered by the Conservation Fund and sponsored by Mercedez-Benz USA.
Based on a micro-lending model, the ShadeFund is a non-profit organization that solicits donations to help support environmentally-friendly small businesses with low-interest, low collateral loans of less than $50,000.
A producer of organic produce, herbs, and lavender oil, Burns visited several banks for a loan to purchase $25,000 in essential equipment, but couldn’t find one that would lend her the money.
The equipment – a lavender harvester and a distiller – will allow Burns both to harvest her lavender more quickly and produce more lavender oil and hydrosol, which are used in cosmetics and cooking products.
Burns’ goal has always been to create a farm-based business that combines aesthetics with sustainability.
“That’s the preoccupation of a designer, to devise an outcome that is not only functional but beautiful,” said Burns, who taught at the college on an adjunct basis. “I think the Conservation Fund was interested in some of the same things that Mercedes Benz was interested in: artisanship and quality of design as well as quality of product.”
Adding a bit of equipment won’t spoil the flavor of a small working farm, Burns insists. The equipment will be hand-operated and small in scale. Visitors to the farm will still be able to witness the hands-on process. And a third of the crop will still be harvested with scissors, then bundled, bound, and hung to dry.
In addition to lavender, Bluebird Hill Farm markets over 50 other cooking herbs, teas, and spice rubs, sells organic vegetables through her own CSA, and offers garden design consultation in addition to tours and cooking classes.
The farm is many ways a full expression of a vision Burns shared with her late husband, Professor Emeritus Robert P. Burns, FAIA, who taught architecture at the College for over 40 years. The couple purchased the land in 1999.
Says Norma: “I think he’d be amazed to see that it’s gone as far as it has.”
Please visit bluebirdhillfarm.net for more information and photos.
Article by: Eric Larson