Why I Do What I Do: Dick Betz and Rosa Lee Sheard, Proprietors of Mary Rose Herb Farm and Retreat

Longing for a sustainable lifestyle away from urban Seattle, Dick Betz and Rosa Lee Sheard packed it up in 1999 and took a chance on 208 acres in southern Indiana. There, they took over a farm that was homesteaded in 1854 by an early conservationist, Mrs. Mills, whom Sheard says “wore pants before Katharine Hepburn.” Mrs. Mills won awards for her environmental efforts and kept her farm pesticide-free. In April 2002, Betz and Sheard started the Mary Rose Herb Farm and Retreat on the still-pristine land, producing enough herbs, flowers, and vegetables to sell at the local farmers’ market. Although not yet USDA certified organic, Mary Rose is pesticide-free, continuing Mrs. Mills’ legacy.

Q. What made you set up shop in Indiana?
A. Betz: I got on the road three separate times and drove all over the United States looking for property, looking for 40 acres or so that we could do an herb farm on. The last trip Rosa Lee said, “I never thought I’d say this, but why don’t you stop in southern Indiana close to where my grandparents had a farm.” I drove down this valley—the weeds were up over your head—and right from the very start this place talked to me.
A. Sheard: He got on his cell phone, called me in Seattle and said, “I found it.”

Q. Was it difficult to start an herb farm in Indiana?
A. Sheard: Yes, it was. We knew we would have a lot of things to overcome, especially being in this area with sixth- and seventh-generation folks—people very seldom move away. I thought, “My goodness, I’m going back to where I was when I was a kid,” and I know how they look at anything that’s alternative or different. We knew we had some education to do.

Q. Do you feel the burden of your mission to educate your community?
A. Betz: I won’t call it a burden, good heavens, no. It’s a joy.
A. Sheard: It’s very rewarding. I can go and speak to a high school group that’s used to drinking Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew every day and let them taste tofu drinks and yogurt—things they have never even thought about. Then three months later I have about half of that class say, “Rosa Lee, I’ve given up pop”—my goodness, it gives me goose bumps.

—Bryce Edmonds