Growing up on a 30,000-acre cattle ranch and feed farm in the high desert of southwestern Kansas is as far from Martha’s Vineyard as almost anyone can be.

But with farming in her DNA, Heather Thurber, now of Breezy Pines Farm in West Tisbury, knew just what she wanted to do when she grew up. “I wanted to take over the family farm!” she said. But sons do that, not daughters, she was told. Not so today, of course; but that was then. And yet, she persisted.

Heather studied agricultural sciences in college, volunteered on organic farms five summers in a row, and discovered that herbs, for both their culinary and medicinal properties, fascinated her the most. She transferred to the California School of Herbal Studies. Now she was on the road to becoming a certified herbalist—a journey that has never ended, as she's added course after course, title after title. She is now a master herbalist and Master Gardener and has no plans to stop there.

Q: So how did you get to Martha’s Vineyard?

A. Love! I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast for work. I happened to meet my husband, Travis Thurber, in Boston and ended up on the Vineyard in 2000. We found out we were both fourth generation farmers. Travis grew up here—on the farm we live on now.

Q. So fess up, did you deliberately seek and fall in love with someone who owned potential farmland?

A. No, that was just luck! At the time I moved here, his family was still leasing the barn and fields for horses, so there wasn’t much of a garden. The garden has grown and evolved over the last 18 years.

Q. Were you pleasantly surprised by the number of farms on this island?

A . I was actually so happy about it, because everybody is very supportive of each other. I have never seen a situation where the small farms are not supported by the large ones. With all the work I’ve done on farms all my life, there usually is not this level of camaraderie and friendliness.

Q. This is also such a different climate from Kansas. Was there a learning curve?

A. Most definitely. This is a completely different growing zone. And coming from a dry climate, I am still getting used to the humidity. From 2001 to 2004, our focus was really on vegetables. We had our own farm stand. I’ve figured out what vegetables really grow during the season here. With herbs, I still really try to coax many that are not supposed to grow in this zone. I’ve had some success and some heartbreak.

Q. So how did herbs come to dominate your garden?

A. When we transitioned to the farmers’ market and continued to sell vegetables, the market managers let me introduce my herbal soaps. I’ve been a soap maker for a really long time. It was one of my 4H projects in 4th grade; I won a big state award.

So I introduced the soaps and sold those with the vegetables, and then my husband wanted to move on to other projects. He couldn’t manage both his booming landscaping business and help me with the gardens. So I just naturally moved into herbs and using those plants to make medicines.

Find Heather's soaps and apothecary products at the West Tisbury Farmers' Market

Q. So today, if I see you at the Farmer’s Market, you are primarily selling what?

A. It's mostly the 75 apothecary products that I produce, and that includes the soaps. The other products range from those that promote sleep to pain-aid, digestive health, or sinus relief. So they are pretty specific.

Q. What is your best selling product?

A. Gosh, I think everybody is mostly looking for sleep aid. So I have a collection of sleep aids with mugwort, hops, bergamont, and bee balm. These plants combined definitely have sedative qualities.

Q. What gives you the most satisfaction?

A. When I have a client who gives me a testimonial that a product has really been a huge benefit to them and other family members, that makes me feel very, very good. I love that I can help people with what I call gentle medicine.

Q. You clearly found a way to earn a living in a place where that is not easy. How has that influenced how you feel about this place?

A. I think that is one of the things I love most about Martha’s Vineyard; it’s a very accommodating and nurturing place for artists and small business owners, especially women. I have met some of the most unique and inspiring women. And I’ve lived all over the U.S. and I would say some of the best of the best are here on this island. For more information about Heather’s products, visit or find her at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market in season.