French farmers who grow the lavender in fine perfumes may be surprised to learn they share a certain kinship with their counterparts in West Virginia.
Just ask Rhiannon Wineland ’20, who’s learned a lot about lavender as the social media coordinator for Appalachian Botanical Co., a lavender farm that recently completed its first harvest. She now knows that the profile of the soil in Provence, France, has a lot in common with some coal mining land in West Virginia. She knows that lavender thrives in rocky, low-nutrient soil, and that the fragrant flower can attract a big social media following.
Wineland, who majored in English and studied in the Professional Writing program at W&J, said courses like digital media prepared her for the job she has now.
“All the classes in that Professional Writing program just really prepared me to stop writing technically, like with essays, and incorporate more creativity into my writing, while still having a professional tone,” she said.
Appalachian Botanical Co. was founded in 2018 with a mission to build a profitable botanical enterprise that provides unique employment opportunities while reclaiming coal mine land and rebuilding sustainable industry in West Virginia. It sells a number of lavender-based body care, aromatherapy and home products.
The farm’s physical location is on several fields on the site of the Boone No. 2 Surface Mine, in Boone County, W.Va., but employees work out of the Washington, Pa. area, and the company has many ties to W&J. Company President and founder Jocelyn Sheppard is the wife of W&J English professor Carolyn Kyler, Ph.D., and Leanne Higginbottom, who joined the company as a research analyst and now holds a more managerial role, is married to Ryan Higginbottom, Ph.D., chair of the Math Department. Creating and supporting communities is integral to the mission and success of the company and the people it supports, and also is an important part of higher education.
“This is true with most small liberal arts schools,” said Higginbottom. “There really is a strong sense of community. Because [a school like W&J operates on] a smaller scale, you really do get to know everyone.”
Wineland balances her duties for Appalachian Botanical with her studies in the graduate professional writing program at Chatham University, and credits her experience at W&J with preparing her to take on both.
“Having a diverse range of classes really helped me, because being in the English Department, we had a lot of freedom to pursue our projects within the class’s range,” Wineland said. “It led to me thinking outside of the box a lot.”