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When Jane Hawley Stevens tends to her plants, she is keeps the public in mind.

“I want people to use my plants rather than using prescription drugs,” she said. “Sometimes plants are better because it’s all natural and you don’t have any side effects.”

Stevens and her husband, David, own Four Elements Herbal Farm in North Freedom. Their business recently was awarded a nearly $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Stevens said the grant would allow the farm to increase its tea cultivation from 3 acres and expand distribution into new markets, which would require additional staff.

The couple has operated its 130-acre certified organic farm since 1991 and their business was recognized as the Sauk County Development Corporation’s Small Business of the Year in 2009.

Presently, Four Elements sells its loose leaf teas at The Grainery in Baraboo, but Stevens hopes to pursue markets in Chicago and Minneapolis. Part of the grant also will allow the farm to open a bagging operation.

“Herbalists prefer their tea loose, but 85 percent of the people want their tea in bags,” Stevens said. “This will help me bring my healing herbs to the people.”

Much of Stevens’ organic farm operation is geared toward natural healing products.

“What better way to do this than using what nature gave us,” she said.

The Granery owner John Kessenich said he is happy to have Four Elements products on his shelves.

“Not all herbs are created equal but they do have tremendous health benefits,” Kessenich said.

While only a select group of tea drinkers prefer loose tea, Kessenich said there is no shortage of customers seeking out Stevens’ products.

“Even with the teas only available in loose leaf there are a lot of people who are coming in and buying them to drink,” Kessenich said. “This grant will help Jane produce something - tea in bags - that will have a wider appeal. She’s an expert in this so for her to blend teas with all the medicinal value to them is priceless for me.”

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said grants like the one Stevens received will “provide economic assistance to independent producers, farmer and rancher and cooperatives and agricultural producer groups by creating value-added products when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage.”

Mike Daniels, a loan specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-rural development, said Stevens has a “worthy project” and the grant will help her expand on it.

“What the grant does is simply give a local business like hers a chance to build on itself and move forward with new projects that they may not have been able to do before,” he said.

For more information, visit www.fourelementsherbals.com