Sage Garden: A taste of the good life

His answer was a ready “yes.” A horticulture student in college, John had a deep-seated desire for country living too. As promised, the couple moved to upstate New York where they eventually bought a small farm, cultivating their own vegetables and herbs and raising sheep and chickens.

Now married 31 years, John and Roberta Mann’s story took a surprising but happy turn when they and their two young daughters relocated to Virginia in 2000 to establish new roots on 22 wooded acres in Fluvanna County.

“When people heard that farmers from New York were moving here, they couldn’t picture that,” said John, who worked as an extension agent for Cornell University. “When they think of New York they think of the city, but where we lived it was more rural than here. It was a depressed area economically, and many family farms were going under.”

The Mann’s farming operation in New York was a diversified, home-based business. They sold flowering plants and medicinal herbs in their greenhouse. Roberta made floral wreaths and marketed them wholesale, shipping them to 17 states and two Canadian provinces. The couple held garden tours and taught workshops. For four years their home served double duty as a bed and breakfast inn.

Their dream to replicate the farming business in Virginia proved challenging as they both took on the responsibilities of full-time jobs and focused on raising their children. John accepted a job as the horticulture landscape manager for Charlottesville’s parks and recreation department, a position which he still holds today. He also does consulting work for several country estates in the area.

The intervening twelve years have been a time of preparation. A section of woods on their property was cleared. The couple built a greenhouse and designed beautifully landscaped gardens. Daughters, Elise, 23, and Emily, 21, grew up and began lives of their own. And John and Roberta realized they were not getting any younger.

Propelled by confident faith and a little ingenuity, they believe now is the time to revive their dream by marketing some of their creations and kicking off a series of workshops at their Sage Garden farm in Palmyra. They want to educate others about the how-to’s of a healthy lifestyle, particularly in regards to nutrition, diet, and herbal medicine.

“Naturopaths believe 80 percent of illness is linked to diet. Our focus is on teaching people how to eat healthy in an unhealthy world, how to go back to preparing good, wholesome food,” explained John, who is a certified professional in the field. “For people who do have illnesses, herbs can be used to help their bodies reach a level of balance. We want to educate people, guide them, and offer them things that have worked for us.”

Roberta’s own health crisis was the driving force behind the couple’s search for answers. In 1993, she was diagnosed with an overgrowth of candida, a type of yeast, in her body.

“My wife went to every doctor under the sun and was very ill. Then she went to a naturopathic doctor, and I went as a skeptic and observed it,” John recalled. “After seeing the changes in just diet and the use of herbs to cleanse her body of the candida, I became a believer.”

Intrigued by this field of study, John decided to learn more and went on to receive a degree in naturopathic medicine at Trinity School of Natural Health in 2005. Roberta immersed herself in classes too and became a master herbalist and nutritionist.

Over 40 varieties of medicinal plants and herbs are harvested at Sage Garden. Roberta prepares her own herbal tinctures from these materials, including one remedy that has been effective in inducing sleep. She also makes aromatherapy “dream pillows,” fashioned from a blend of lavender, mugwort, passion flower, and hops. She plans to market these products online.

Last month the Manns introduced a new crop that has been flourishing in their greenhouse—sprouts of micro-greens that add flavor and nutritional value to salads, Italian dishes, and other foods. The assortment of bite-size leafy plants includes broccoli, yellow mustard, red radish, alfalfa, and arugula. Since they are living plants, Roberta says they can be kept on a kitchen counter to continue growing, or they can be refrigerated and will remain fresh for up to two weeks. The entire plant is edible, roots and all.

The Manns are planning to sell the micro-greens to restaurants and health food stores in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. The plants will also be available for sale at the local farmers market and at the Sage Garden greenhouse.

The lineup of fall and winter workshops begins with an October 6 class on growing garlic, nature’s antibiotic. Other topics in the series of six workshops include boosting your immune system, eating your way to health which concludes with a luncheon, and a holiday wreath-making class. Costs range from $16 to $35.

Roberta hopes participants will feel right at home as they gather in her country kitchen to prepare healthy meals, enjoy good conversation, and learn together. As for the Manns, they have found contentment and marital bliss on their own piece of paradise that they share with two dogs, two cats, 19 chickens, four sheep – Louie, Liam, Lulu, and Lola, and two goats – Chaz and Chico.

“Berta will be 60 this year and I’m 58, but we feel better now than we did twenty years ago,” said John. “We are eating right, we have a healthy outlook, we keep busy.”
“And we make a good team,” said Roberta, completing her husband’s sentence.

To register for the educational workshops, or to purchase products at Sage Garden, contact the Manns at (434) 589-4706. Their company website,, is currently under construction.

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