Introducing Sliding Scale Pricing

Sunset on larches.

Sunset on larches.

I believe that herbal medicine is the people’s medicine and that it should be as accessible as possible to all. And while I hope to craft a modest livelihood for myself out of my love and passion for plants, that is gentle on (and ideally regenerative for) the earth, I also just really want to share and celebrate the gifts of our wild and wonderful herbal allies with as many people as possible.

To help further that goal, two summers ago I introduced sliding scale pricing when selling my products at the farmgate stand, craft shows and markets. I feel it has been successful and though it sometimes takes a little bit of explaining to people who aren’t familiar with the system, folks are generally quite appreciative and positive once they understand how it works.

I have been wanting to add sliding scale pricing to my herbal boxes and workshops for a while but needed to take some time to sit down and work the numbers. I finally had a chance to do that and I am very happy to start offering sliding scale prices (sliding scales on monthly boxes are effective immediately and will be introduced for workshops in January 2016).

Sunrise walk in autumn.

Sunrise walk in autumn.

What is sliding scale pricing and how does it work?

Sliding scale pricing provides a service or product with multiple price points. These price points are set to make the service or product accessible to people with different levels of income, so that financial resources need not be a barrier to a person’s ability to access a product or service. Community members can chose the price point that best reflects their ability pay for a product or service, based on their individual circumstances.

The Price Points

When choosing my three price points, I spent time figuring out what my costs are for each product and service I offer and approximately how many working hours are required to develop and produce my products and services. I calculated the amount per hour I need to earn a living wage, that also allows me to make ethical choices as a consumer, including sustaining the business, plus a little extra for an expendable income (books are my weakness!)* I combined my costs and hourly wage together to determine the true cost of my products and services. This price covers the cost of materials and 100% of my time. I have chosen two additional price points that cover the costs of materials but only 60% and 30% of my time respectively.

Obviously I need to recover my costs, but for those with limited financial resources, I am happy to gift my time to make my products and services more accessible across a wider ranger of income levels.

*a living wage is the minimum income sufficient for [people] to pay for the basic necessities of life (food, housing, transportation), so they can live with dignity and participate as active citizens in our society. Source:

How to chose which price point to pay?

This is the tricky part. Sliding scale pricing requires trust, openness and honest reflection of an individual’s ability to pay for a product or service. Determining one’s ability to pay can be challenging and there are different systems to help one decide where one falls on the scale. For example, some businesses ask for income verification, while others may ask that you reflect on how much of your income is spent on necessities versus entertainment, hobbies or vacations. In researching and reflecting on my own needs, values and desire to offer a sliding scale, I came across the work of Alexis J. Cunningfolk and her sliding scale system. She discusses the difference between hardship and sacrifice as one way of determining where to pay on the scale.

If paying for a class, product, or service would be difficult, but not detrimental, it qualifies as a sacrifice. You might have to cut back on other spending in your life (such as going out to dinner, buying coffee, or a new outfit), but this will not have a long term harmful impact on your life. It is a sacred sacrifice in order to pursue something you are called to do. If, however, paying for a class, product, or service would lead to a harmful impact on your life, such as not being able to put food on the table, pay rent, or pay for your transportation to get to work, then you are dealing with hardship. Folks coming from a space of hardship typically qualify for the lower end of the sliding scale… Please be mindful that if you purchase a price at the lowest end of the scale when you can truthfully afford the higher ticket prices, you are limiting access to those who truly need the gift of financial flexibility. Being honest with yourself and your financial situation when engaging with sliding scale practices grows strong and sustainable communities.

Alexis also developed a handy infographic to help people determine where they best fall on the scale. (Click to enlarge image.) While this approach may not exactly capture everyone’s individual circumstances, I think it’s a helpful starting place when choosing which price to pay.


I would also like to add that there are many people who have a lower than average income, but for reasons of ethics, social justice and commitment to the environment, they may pay a premium price for consumer goods that support their values. While on the surface it may look like they can easily afford to pay high-end prices for things like local, organic food, fair trade items, or humanely raised meat for example, in reality they may already be making significant financial sacrifices in other areas in order to do so. For these folks, I feel that the middle or lower end of the scale would be appropriate choices here.

When offering sliding scale prices at markets some people express surprise that anyone would pay the true cost of a product when a reduced price is available, but I have found over and over again, most people are willing to pay what they can honestly afford.

We live in a world where so much of the production and consumption of goods causes misery and suffering to others. My hope is that I can offer something of value to the community, that provides a more accessible (admittedly small, but heartfelt) alternative to participating in an economic system the necessitates the profligate use of precious resources and concentrates wealth and power to the few, at the expense of the health and well-being of the many.

If you are interested in purchasing some of the products or services that the Wild Garden has to offer, I invite you to to use the sliding scale. And if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!

Herbally yours,

Amber Westfall


Frost on hawthorn

What’s Happening in the Wild Garden this Fall?


We’ve been in the farmhouse for three months now and are settling into a full and busy routine.  I like to start at least a few days each week with an early morning perambulation of the property, a kind of beating of the bounds while the sun comes up. In this quiet, peaceful hour I watch the goldenrod fill the fields in a wave of lemon yellow and then fade away. I pass the hawthorns ripening and make a mental note to come back with my harvest basket. Rounding the corner to the far field I come upon a deer and a family of wild turkeys. The deer lifts and swings its head to look at me. I pause, have a moment with the deer, and continue on my way.  It feels necessary to continually move my body through this landscape that sustains and nourishes me and to get to know it as intimately as I can. 


I gather wild food and medicine plants here (obviously not near discarded tires!). I work my 1/2 acre plot.  My plate fills again and again with the delicious, organic vegetables that the Just Food Farmers produce. In the farmhouse baskets of wild apples are waiting to be turned into juice and sauce. The canner and steam juicer are taking turns putting in hours on the stove. In the apothecary there are big gaps in the shelves where I store the empty mason jars. Each day more jars are filled with the season’s harvest. 

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer says that we are bound to the earth by a covenant of reciprocity that is rooted in gratitude and responsibility.  Each day I look for opportunities to joyfully fulfil these obligations.

Apples! 015

As the summer winds down and the days shorten I’m also looking ahead to fall activities.  I’m making plans for next year’s growing season. I have a new series of workshops to offer and lots of products in the apothecary to share with you. Please read on to find out what’s happening in the Wild Garden over the next few months!

Fall Wild Food and Herb CSA
The Fall CSA is open for registration. From October to December each box will be filled with products handcrafted from local, organic plants to support you through the changing season and prepare you for winter, including elderberry syrup, immune boosting mushrooms, digestive bitters and more. For more information or to sign up visit here.

Apothecary 101: Herbal Medicine Making Series
There are a variety of ways to work with the healing properties of plants from the most primal, ancient act of adding herbs to hot water, to today’s quick and convenient tinctures dropped on the tongue. Choosing your solvent, your herbs and how to administer them is a skill you can spend a lifetime mastering. These workshops are designed to both get you started and deepen your experience of the theory and practice of herbal medicine making!

September 16th, 6-8pm The Universal Solvent: Water-based herbal extracts 
Steeping and decocting herbs into water is the foundation and simplest form of plant healing that can bring about the most profound and transformative effects in the body. This workshop will explore internal and external uses of nourishing herbal infusions, soaks, baths, sitz baths, poultices, compresses and washes.

October 21st, 6-8pm Sweet & Sour Medicine Part I: Herbal honey, syrup, electuaries
Sweet remedies are calming, soothing, nourishing and building and they help the medicine go down!

November 4th, 6-8pm Sweet & Sour Medicine Part II: Vinegar, oxymels, switchels and shrubs
Vinegar-based remedies have been used since ancient times to promote health and well-being.

December 2nd, 6-8pm Healing Oils and Soothing Salves 
Herb infused oils and salves protect and heal the integumentary system and ease the aches and pains of musculoskeletal injuries.

For more information or to sign up visit here.  These workshops are free (+ $5 materials fee) to CSA members during the months for which they are subscribed.

I will also be teaching Materia Medica II and Western Herbal Energetics at the International Academy Health Education Centre this fall.

If you live in Ottawa you can now order select Wild Garden Products online through Savour Ottawa and pick them up at the Parkdale Fieldhouse.

And finally, the original date for the Petrie Island plant walk got rained out and will be now be taking place this Sunday the 20th at 1 pm.



Two Evenings in August

August 6
I linger in the apothecary. I’ve hung the boneset and spread the raspberry leaves to dry. There is more work downstairs in the kitchen yet, but I surrender a few precious moments to gaze out the window and watch the last of the dusky peach drain out of the sky and give way to the deepening blue.

The farmhouse is quiet and I am winding down the day, taking a final pass with the broom, corralling various bits of whatever plant matter is constantly under foot. A quick review of the forecast and the bottomless ‘to do’ list gives shape to tomorrow.

Laundry. Harvest and tincture oats in am. Gather sumac. Pull garlic. Garble mugwort. Make batch of lotion bars. Strain horsetail vinegar. Prepare tincture for A. Mix smoking blend for B. Send comfrey oil to C. Start 2nd ferment of kefir. Prep Saturday’s plant walk. Send in membership to the National Farmer’s Union. Advertise fall workshops. Update the books. Keep the records. Pay the bills. Dishes. Dishes. Dishes.

And always the sweeping.
FarminJune 007

August 29
I enter the sitting room closing the French doors behind me, shrinking my world and my cares to the four book-lined walls and the open windows that let in late summer night air and a chorus of crickets. Underneath there is the ever present thrum of traffic, the busy 6 lane road nearby a constant reminder of this farm’s urban setting.

The farm exists right at the boundary of city and country, in the feral, edge spaces between the two. ‘Burbs and big box stores flank my east and west. To the south is corn & soy farmland, and two parallel roads built atop sandy ridges left behind by an ancient sea, cutting into a remarkable bog/boreal ecosystem. To the north are small, scrappy woods, the highway, the river.

The traffic noise fades from my mind as I settle into my chair, cup of tea at hand. The old reading lamp casts a warm, mellow glow and suddenly I am overcome with anticipation. Reading in the evening! How long has it been? I pause for a moment, acutely aware of what this signifies. Another shift in the light. Shortening days and lengthening nights. An exhale. A wider sliver of opening that will take me slowly from the work of sun-drenched, blue-sky days into that season of butter light, wet leaves, warming spices, hot broths, slow cooked apples and finally to snow hushed rest.

But tonight it’s a few precious moments stolen from a busy harvest schedule to read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It’s been a months long wait for this book on hold at the library. I’m so thrilled to finally have it in my hands I’m almost too excited to read.

But then I begin and am caught up in the words.

“The question of goldenrod and asters was of course just emblematic of what I really wanted to know. It was an architecture of relationships, of connections that I yearned to understand. I wanted to see the shimmering threads that hold it all together. And I wanted to know why we love the world, why the most ordinary scrap of meadow can rocks us back on our heels in awe.”
~Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer.
goldenrod 007

Summer Happenings in the Wild Garden

The solstice is past. Already morning light streaming into the bedroom comes in just a just a touch later now. The nightly light show of June’s fireflies gives way to the cicadas starting to drone their high note of summer. The days shimmer with the kind of heat and haze that makes afternoon siestas in the hammock mandatory. It’s the time of year when words like ‘verdant’ and ‘lush’ are an understatement. My life in particular has become downright bucolic recently.

My partner Andrew and I have had the amazing fortune of renting the house on the Just Food property where my 1/2 acre garden is located. We moved in at the beginning of June and a month and a half later we are unpacked and in awe of our new living arrangements.

Farmhouse 003Being here is a dream come true. My commute to the garden has shrunk from 12 km to .5 km. I am surrounded by 150 beautiful acres of fields, forests and streams right outside my back door. (This pic was taken through my sunglasses. You can just make out the roof line of the house to the right of the barn.)FarmhouseField

I have a porch and a big front yard with a hammock under two shady trees.hammock 002 The kitchen is bright and cheerful. (This was taken around 6:00 am just as the first rays of sun came into the kitchen.)ElderBlooms 021 The living room is cosy.FarminJune 018 Farmhouse 009 Farmhouse 008 The bedroom is a simple haven of peace and tranquillity.FarmhouseBedroom I have an outdoor laundry line!!! The compost is right outside the kitchen door. Sometimes I see deer walking across the yard. Deer 002

I love what the place has to offer in terms of my workspace and flow. My apothecary is three times bigger and so much better organized because of the extra space.ApothecaryFarmhouse 015moving 033 There is more room for workshop and class space. I can offer longer, more in depth classes that have both an outdoor and indoor component, which means classes are not limited by weather and participants can gather and process plants on site all in the same class.ClassSpaceThe house is very accessible by public transit and there is a stop less than a minute away on a major route that can take you downtown in about 20 minutes. The post office, grocery store and library are a 5 minute bike ride away.

I’m so thrilled to have this space to steward, respect and care for, for as long as I am here. This feels like the proverbial next chapter in my life and for the Wild Garden, and I am excited to see how the story continues to unfold.

And as always, for those of you who have followed me on this journey, for a little or a long time, I am grateful. Every encouraging word and helpful tidbit of feedback bolsters my heart. I am honoured by each CSA member, student and class participant with the opportunity to share my love of the plants and to spend yet another day dedicated to work and study that brings me joy. Thank you for sharing in this, and if you’re in the neighbourhood, do come and stop by the farm to say ‘hi!’

The Just Food Farm Stand launches in two weeks on July 26th. This year it will run on Sundays up until Thanksgiving from 10 am to 3 pm. You’ll have a fantastic selection of local, organic veggies, honey, ferments, herbs, teas and more! We just started a Facebook page here, where you can stay up to date on our special events and what we have on offer each week.

This year’s weed walks have been very popular, selling out quickly. I looked at my schedule and managed to squeeze in an extra date. There are only four spots left for this one!

The Explorations in Plant Healing classes have been such a delight to host. Imagine spending an entire day immersed in and experiencing one plant in depth. The combination of field botany, nature awareness, theory and practice had one participant comment, “Thank you, Amber, for another wonderful session in the Exploration in Plant Healing series last weekend. I enjoy every part of the experience, especially the outdoors foraging on the farm and later making medicine together in the farmhouse. I also appreciate the attention we give our focus plant through reflections and researching the Materia Medica. It’s a magical place to be for the day!”

Spots are filling up in for the Foraging Families class coming up in August. This will be a fun-filled day of learning about wild plants, playing games and exploring the outdoors.

The Summer CSA is in full swing. I love planning for and preparing the boxes each month. And I’m already looking ahead to the fall anticipating wild crab apple butter, all things goldenrod, sticky New England Aster flowers, elderberry syrup, delicious dandelion…

Register for the Fall CSA here.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and taking time to enjoy the wild and weedy things!

Foraging Safety and Human Fallibility

The May/June issue of Edible Ottawa goes wild with some great articles. Scott ‘The Mushroom Man’ Perrie of Valley Wild Edibles, talks about his passion for fungi and his new mushroom inoculation project ‘Fungus Among us’. The amazing work of Hidden Harvest is featured. And some of our best local farms are highlighted as well. It’s out now and I highly recommend you get your free copy today!
EdibleOttawa 003The Wild Garden even makes a brief appearance and I’m still floored to be in such illustrious company!

Flip to the back of the magazine and you’ll find a gorgeous spread of some common, wild edible foods that can be found in our area. I love the illustrations by Julia Kuo!

A quick glance at the spread when I picked up my copy, however, revealed a few mistakes. I feel the need to point them out, not to nitpick, but for safety reasons (incorrect identification of plants used for food and/or medicine can lead to serious harm), because my name is on it and I need people to know that I know what I’m talking about (most of the time!) and because I think this is a great cautionary example for foragers and wildcrafters of all skill levels, but especially beginners.
EdibleOttawa 001
The first rule of foraging/wildcrafting is always have a 100% positive ID before harvesting. The best way to get this ID is by spending A LOT of time observing plants in a variety of habitats, in different growing conditions, in all their growth stages, in all four seasons and reference at least 3 different sources (field guides, local floras, an expert, or trusted online sources). Don’t rely on just one source for an ID and don’t believe everything you read or hear.

The reality is, mistakes happen and humans are fallible. Herban legends get passed on untested from one foraging book to another until everyone vehemently asserts that common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) must be boiled in multiple changes of water before it can be consumed. (This is actually not necessary.) Talk about eating black nightshade and some people will look at you and wonder how managed to survive such a deadly meal. They’ve confused Solanum nigrum, S. americanum, S. ptychanthum, S. douglasii and other closely allied species with deadly nightshade (Atropa belladona) or bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). I was once told by an experienced herbalist that sumac is not used for medicine and is best harvested in the fall. (It has an exceptionally long history of use as medicine and is one of my favourite astringents. It’s best gathered around here in late July to early August.) Older foraging books often list multiple species of ferns as edible but we now know that many of them have carcinogenic compounds and high amounts of thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine and prevents the body from absorbing this important B vitamin. So now most foragers stick with the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). But even then there are exceptions.

There are some great forums on Facebook that discuss wild edible foods and medicinal plants (I especially like Ancestral Plants run by Arthur Haines). In these groups you have access to some of the best experts in the field (literally) who spend time and energy providing quality information for free. But there are also complete beginners making stab in the dark guesses, and everyone in between. Misinformation abounds on social media and it can be overwhelming to sort through it all.

I have corrected errors in the notes people have taken on plant walks with me. Somewhere in the transmission from my mouth to their paper, details got lost or confused. Not to mention that on plant walks I can’t always provide every single detail about every plant we discuss. I may leave out the odd contraindication (don’t drink red clover if you’re on blood thinners), confuse my scientific names (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum has been changed to Leucanthemum vulgare and maybe I forgot that) or even (shocking!) misidentify a plant. (A homeschool child once pointed out to me that the tree without leaves couldn’t possibly be a maple because it had last year’s linden seeds still attached to a branch. Oops!)

My point is, mistakes happen and when it comes to foraging and wildcrafting those mistakes have the potential to be harmful (Thankfully, most of the time, they are not). Wherever you are on your journey of working with wild plants, it is essential to cross-reference, double and triple check and be absolutely certain you have that 100% positive ID. Don’t rely on a single source of information. Don’t believe everything you read, especially if it’s on the internet. And don’t believe me. While I go to great lengths to ensure that the information I provide is as accurate as possible, it’s still important cross-reference that with other sources. I’ve been at this for nearly a decade now. I have a knack for plant ID and I’ve taught myself some pretty solid botany skills, but in so many ways I still think of myself as a beginner. I’m still learning, making discoveries and yes, making mistakes. And sometimes beautiful spreads in excellent magazines are printed with my words, but things get a little mixed up in the layout.

If you make sure to take responsibility for the wild plants you touch and put in your mouth, do your research and observe the plants closely and frequently, your foraging experience will be safe, healthy and a lot of fun!

Check out these sources for more information on safety and foraging guidelines:

RSS Feed Subscribe to RSS Feed