Escape from city-livin’ and take the slow road to one of Henderson, Kentucky’s cherished family farms. In this Homegrown Series, we will be spotlighting local farmers and family-run orchards. Get to know our farm fresh community and learn about why agriculture roots run deep in Henderson!
The farm at Hillcrest is dotted with all sort of plants produce and animals including turkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, rabbits and chickens. While Hillcrest has the appearance of typical farm life, its origins have a unique beginning.
For many years, Karen O’Nan Martin was a stay at home mom. Crafts, gardening, and basket weaving consumed her spare time. “I took up basket weaving for a hobby. Many people found it interesting and people wanted to buy them and learn how to do it. I made it a business in 1992.”
She soon became involved with Kentucky Crafted and attended large markets each year. Karen would sell thousands of dollars worth of baskets at these markets, and come home to fulfill her orders, all while raising three kids. During one family vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Karen wove baskets while watching her family on mountain rafting excursion. “I always had to have my basket of weaving supplies when we took vacations or I’d fall behind on orders,” she laughed. All of her kids learned to weave baskets as children because they watched her do it everyday at home.
Her interest in gardening was also simultaneously growing. Her husband, Michael, approached her with a proposition: if she could reach $10,000 in basket sales, he would build her a greenhouse. She reached the goal and built her first greenhouse that was no bigger than a large sized bathroom. Thus, Hillcrest Baskets & Greenhouse LLC was born!
Karen decided to grow plants in her greenhouse that no one else had: herbs. “Nobody around here was into it at the time. It was very hard to market them, so I started offering to go to people’s houses to dig their own herb gardens.” She began teaching classes on how to grow and use herbs, and even taught people how to take care of their gardens. “I quickly outgrew the first greenhouse,” Karen laughed. They were able to get a much larger greenhouse in 2005, but a heavy storm took it to the ground only three months after they put it up. “We rebuilt it. The next year, I decided that I needed to replenish some of the money I put into this.” She started growing perennials, annuals, herbs, shrubs, and a variety of plants, which opened a new door for her. Hillcrest soon became known not just for the baskets and produce, but also for landscaping.
Karen now runs a personalized landscaping business. “Everything that I pick fits the client’s lifestyle & personality; whether they decorate with certain colors or have kids and need low maintenance landscaping. I have a hired crew that helps with the landscaping because it is much larger than the baskets now.” In April of every year, the greenhouse is open to the public for shopping on Saturdays or by appointment. Occasionally, there are open houses with free events, classes and workshops.
Karen’s growing doesn’t stop there. She also manages a Community Supported Agriculture program (or CSA, for short) called Fresh from the Farm. It started in 2012 with a phone call from an employee of the hospital who wanted to give their employees access to a CSA program. At first, Karen was unsure if she could tackle something so large, but she proceeded without hesitation. “My only mistake that year was having too many customers. I was re-planting crops constantly and using quick crops that would would be ready in 28 days,” she laughed.
She then decided to offer her program to individuals rather than getting her sign ups through the hospital. Most CSA programs have a central pick-up location where they pick up their orders at a certain time. Fresh from the Farm is different: she delivers! “I think what people love about it is that they come home and they have fresh vegetables right at their front door.”
Among her basket weaving and creating CSA orders, Karen also sells fairy garden decorations, Kentucky Proud foods, and garden accessories out of her at-home workshop at Hillcrest. Even her farm animals play an important role at Hillcrest. One goat, named Jolene, gets to visit daycares and participate in children’s story time with Karen. Jolene wears a bell on her collar since she is an escape artist at home, but she is great with the kids.
Karen’s passions have fallen into place and created a great agriculture and handcrafted asset to the Henderson County community. “I never set out to start a business, ever,” Karen reflected. “I saw a door open, and I didn’t hesitate to go through it.”
If you would like to connect with Hillcrest to learn more about what they offer, the best way to find out about classes and open houses is by following Hillcrest Baskets and Greenhouse LLC on Facebook. While you’re there, follow Fresh from the Farm to stay informed about the CSA program!